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. intelligence officials have concluded that Russian military intelligence offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported. According to the New York Times, Russian military intelligence (GRU) Unit 29155 was behind the bounties. Additionally, U.S. officials have intercepted data showing financial transfers between a GRU unit and Taliban-linked accounts, The New York Times reported. U.S. President Donald Trump denies he has been briefed on the reported finding, according to RFE/RL, while the Russian envoy to Afghanistan called the intelligence “an outright fake,” The Washington Post reports.
- When negotiators from the U.S. and Russia met in Vienna last week to discuss renewing the last major nuclear arms control treaty that still exists between the two countries, American officials surprised their counterparts with a classified briefing on new and threatening nuclear capabilities—not Russia’s, but China’s, the New York Times reports. The American message was clear: Trump will not renew any major arms control treaty that China does not also join.
- Nearly three-quarters of Russian voters have backed constitutional changes that pave the way for extending Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule until 2036, according to the Russian election commission’s preliminary results, The Moscow Times reports.
- Russia is sending reinforcements to Libya to help military leader Khalifa Haftar, who is on the defensive after a failed effort to topple the country's U.N.-backed government, as Moscow seeks to shape the fate of the nation and its vast oil reserves, the Wall Street Journal reports.
- Putin told his counterparts from Turkey and Iran on July 1 that there was a need for peaceful dialogue between the opposing forces in Syria’s civil war, Reuters reports. During the same call, Iranian President Hassan Rohani told Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan that the "illegitimate" presence of U.S. forces in Syria should end immediately, RFE/RL reports.
- Faced with a spike in coronavirus cases, both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are re-imposing measures in some areas, according to RFE/RL. An Uzbek government commission said that as of July 1, public transportation will be limited and no more than three people will be allowed to gather between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. on weekends in regions with registered coronavirus cases, while Kazakhstan's government has presented a plan to reintroduce lockdown measures, with a second lockdown that would start on July 5 and last for at least 14 days.
This Week’s Highlights
- While Russia has at times cooperated with the United States and appeared interested in Afghan stability, it often seems to work at crosscurrents with its own national interest if the result is damage to American national interests, a former senior Trump White House official told the New York Times in reference to the suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan. Revenge is also a factor in Russia’s support for the Taliban, the official said. In reference to the suspected plot, U.S. President Donald Trump said that “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible.” Russia and the Taliban have denied the plot.
- Even if Russia is cheating on some arms control agreements, that doesn’t mean they will cheat on all of them, or that it is no longer worth it to retain the ones that are working, write Matt Korda and Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. Russia has a clear interest in limiting U.S. nuclear forces, they argue, just as the United States and its allies have an interest in limiting Russian forces.
- Any conflict with Russia will always be implicitly nuclear in nature. If it is not managed, then the logic of such a war is to escalate to nuclear use, argue Michael Kofman and Anya Loukianova Fink of CNA Corporation. The United States needs to develop its own strategy for escalation management, and a stronger comfort level with the realities of nuclear war, they write.
- David Shimer argues that what Vladimir Putin accomplished in 2016 was little different from what his predecessors attempted for decades, writes The Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada in his review of Shimer’s book “Rigged.” Russia's interference four years ago was "the evolution of a practice rather than its creation," Shimer writes. In keeping with the goals of Soviet premiers and intelligence chiefs long before, Putin wanted to subvert threatening candidates, promote friendlier ones and deepen America's divides to discredit U.S. democracy. The difference, according to Shimer, was not the strategy the Russians used, but the power and efficacy of the tools at their disposal.
- On one level, the present Sino-Russian axis makes perfect sense, writes Philip Stephens of the Financial Times. Both nations reject the American-designed postwar global order and repudiate the notion of a rules-based system rooted in Western values. Both favor a Westphalian order in which the strong carve out spheres of influence. But, Stephens argues, a leader planning to hold on to power for another 15 years might take the time for a strategic stock-take. The challenges and risks lie to Russia's east.
- The list of amendments to the Russian constitution sends mixed messages regarding future political transformations: it marks a potential strengthening of representative institutions while at the same time reinforcing the “vertical of power,” writes Prof. Marlene Laruelle. The amendments, therefore, open two different futures for Russia: one that is more parliamentary and therefore potentially more plural; and one that is more centralized, and so, one can assume, is likely to be operated by security agencies, according to Laruelle.