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
U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda:
- According to a summary of the draft 2020 NDAA by the House and Senate Armed Services committees, the bill authorizes $300 million in weapons for Ukraine and an additional $743 million for the European Defense Initiative. The bill also includes the measure to punish companies involved in Russia’s Nord Stream 2 and Turk Stream pipelines. The bill also reportedly prohibits any funds for buying or fielding intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles despite U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty and this week’s flight-test of an intermediate-range, ground-based ballistic missile, the second such test by the U.S. in four months. The bill also bans the transfer of the F-35 to Turkey while Ankara has S-400s. The 2020 NDAA’s $743.3 billion is reportedly the highest since World War II, adjusting for inflation, save for during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
- Trump and Pompeo hosted Lavrov in Washington on Dec. 10, agreeing with him on the need for denuclearization of North Korea, but disagreeing on whether to extend New START, as the U.S. side insisted on including China in a new arms control deal. The two sides also reportedly discussed Iran, Ukraine and Venezuela. Both Trump and Pompeo also raised the issue of elections interference, even though Lavrov said he did not discuss the issue with the U.S. president. Pompeo also said the U.S. and Russia continue to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. His comments came as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prepared a bill that would require the Trump administration to determine whether Russia should be designated a state sponsor of terrorism. While in Washington, Lavrov said U.S.-Russian bilateral trade has risen about one-third—from $20 billion during the Obama administration, to $27 billion this year. Trump told Lavrov he’d like to increase the volume of U.S.-Russian trade by “several times.”
Russia’s domestic news:
- Russia’s natural population decline will reportedly set an 11-year record this year. In the first 10 months of this year, deaths outnumbered live births by 259,600, according to Rosstat data cited by RBC. It was the highest natural population decline since 2008, when deaths outnumbered births by 362,000, according to The Moscow Times.
Foreign affairs, trade and investment:
- The leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia met in Paris and reaffirmed commitment to implementing the Minsk II agreement, according to the joint communique of the Normandy Format summit. Putin and Zelenskiy also agreed to "commit to a full and comprehensive implementation" of a ceasefire by the end of 2019, according to the communique. The two also agreed to aim for "an all-for-all" prisoner exchange by the end of the year. However, Putin and Zelenskiy failed to resolve crucial issues such as a timeline for local elections in eastern Ukraine and the borders in the region. While Putin said relations with Ukraine were now in a ''thaw,” he also stressed Russia's longstanding position that Donbas should be given special status. Zelenskiy made clear that there could be no movement on the political and constitutional changes that Russia wants until security issues, including control of the border, had been settled.
This Week’s Highlights:
- NATO does not need more eastern presence to convey its resolve to Russia, argues Stimson Center senior fellow Melanie W. Sisson; what it needs is for Russia to believe that its forces have the ability, and that its governments have the willingness, to get there fast.
- Sabine Fischer thinks the EU should take up Macron's initiative to clarify its relationship with Russia and channel it into a debate at the European level. This should be done with a clear understanding that no reciprocal actions are to be expected from Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Fischer, a member of the EU-Russia Expert Network on Foreign Policy.
- The Belt and Road Initiative is calculated to sideline Russia, pull Europe closer to Asia and establish China as the pre-eminent power in the world's richest, most populous region—Eurasia, claims Philip Stephens of the Financial Times.
- Tony Barber of the Financial Times argues that Moscow appears interested in dialing down the conflict in Ukraine, but not at any price and, therefore, a breakthrough on Ukraine may have to wait, at best, until the 2020 U.S. election campaign is over. Carnegie Moscow Center’s Tatiana Stanovaya writes that the Kremlin will continue to hold a political foothold in the Donbas that will provide it with leverage to influence Ukraine's foreign policy.
- Belarus' unique network of bilateral, military-to-military agreements with its neighbors could help Belarus serve as a geographic cushion between NATO and Russia, protecting the two against miscalculation, writes Vitali Shkliarov, a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Davis Center.
- Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center writes that 10,000 little Putins try to guess how the "big Putin" in the Kremlin would behave in their place and act accordingly, producing a toxic mix of injustice and inhumanity. The ordinary citizen, who preferred to adapt and conform rather than chafe at the ever-tightening noose, bears no less responsibility for the current situation than do the authoritarian leaders, according to Kolesnikov.