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 U.S. will move almost 12,000 troops out of Germany in a matter of weeks, repositioning air assets to Italy and moving U.S. command structures to Belgium, but also sending 6,400 troops back home—though some of them will rotate in and out of Poland, the Baltic states and the Black Sea region. Mike Pompeo, the U.S. secretary of state, defended the move, saying troops would be deployed “closer to the Russian border” than before and describing Moscow as a “destabilizing authoritarian force,” according to the Financial Times. Russia’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov countered that if these 12,000 troops are deployed in one of the “‘new’ NATO member states, it would mean a grave violation of the NATO-Russia Founding Act.”
- U.S. and Russian officials met in Vienna for three days this week for consultations that included their first space security talks since the end of the Cold War, according to reports by the Financial Times and Interfax. One American familiar with the discussions said any space deal similar to those that regulate terrestrial weapons will take time. The two delegation also discussed doctrines and strategic stability, with a special focus on New START, transparency and verification, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Both delegations expressed interest in improving communications in order to reduce the risks of misunderstanding, help prevent or manage space-related incidents and prevent inadvertent escalation, the State Department said. Russian diplomat Mikhail Ulyanov said he did not remember “a single instance over the past 10 years when Russian-U.S. consultations had been so lengthy, and with such an intensive and substantive agenda," Nikkei reported.
- The U.S. State Department has issued warnings to Russia that there will be repercussions if Moscow pays bounties to the Taliban for successfully killing American soldiers, according to two unnamed senior American officials and another individual “with knowledge of the matter,” according to the Daily Beast. President Trump, however, told an interviewer that he had not discussed the bounty allegations with Putin in a July 23 call or at any other time, The Washington Post reported. "And frankly,” the president added, “that's an issue that many people said was fake news."
- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka demanded an explanation from Moscow after Minsk arrested 33 alleged members of Russian private military contractor Wagner, which is reportedly linked to the Kremlin, ahead of a tense Aug. 9 presidential election. According to multiple press reports, Belarus is tightening control over its border with Russia as it searches for 170 individuals it says are also Wagner mercenaries. While Belarus’s Investigative Committee said the mercenaries may be connected to jailed would-be presidential candidate Sergei Tikhanovsky, his wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya—Lukashenka’s leading rival—denied that the opposition was collaborating with the Russians to stage an uprising, AFP reported.
- A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced the Ukraine Security Partnership Act, which authorizes up to $300 million per year in military aid to Ukraine, including bolstering Ukraine’s navy and supplying anti-ship, anti-tank, and anti-aircraft weapons, RFE/RL reported.
- Russians’ trust in Putin fell to a new low in July, according to a new poll by the Levada Center reported by The Moscow Times. Only 23 percent of respondents named Putin when asked to identify several politicians they trust the most, compared to 59 percent in 2017. Putin’s approval rating remained steady at 60 percent. Another Levada Center poll showed that 45 percent of Russians approve of a recent wave of anti-Kremlin protests in the Far East, which erupted after the FSB arrested a regional governor from the LDPR party on charges of ordering contract killings more than a decade ago. When asked whether they would take part in similar protests in their own region, 29 percent of respondents said they would, The Moscow Times wrote.
This Week’s Highlights
- New technologies and areas of contention have disrupted the nuclear balance, writes Elizabeth Sherwood Randall, a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. “With more and new players, domains and capabilities, and no rules of the road governing usage, classical notions of strategic stability offer scant guidance. Deterrence now has to work across a much broader and more complex landscape,” she warns. Traditional arms control will thus be “far from adequate to address the dangers of today’s and tomorrow’s realities,” though it should remain a goal. “Washington should also try to start a new high-level dialogue with Moscow about strategic stability, despite the current state of the U.S.-Russian relationship,” while “the United States and China should begin a serious exchange about establishing guardrails and potential constraints on the most destabilizing capabilities.”
- Climate change demands cooperation, not competition in the Arctic, according to Thomas Graham and Amy Myers Jaffe of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Fletcher School’s Climate Policy Lab, respectively. “At a time of deepening distrust between the United States and Russia,” they write, “the danger is that even actions taken for legitimate security reasons could spark unnecessary geopolitical tensions.” For example, Russia “considers the Northern Sea Route to be within its territorial waters, whereas the United States maintains that the passage is in international waters.” The most urgent goal, the authors argue, “would be a code of conduct to regulate military activities in the region and reduce the risks of incidents escalating into armed conflict.”
- Meanwhile, Russia and China’s Arctic partnership is not an alliance—it is driven by business, argues Elizabeth Buchanan of Australia’s Deakin University. “Despite mutually beneficial interests in the region, commercial realpolitik is at the heart of their engagement,” she writes. And “as climate change decreases year-round ice coverage, Beijing is likely to … seek free transit of the parts of the Northern Sea Route within international waters.”
- “Both the EU and Russia share an interest in avoiding a world framed by a Sino-American bipolar rivalry, which would reduce the normative and geoeconomic clout of Brussels while undercutting elements of Moscow’s great power status,” writes Zachary Paikin of the Global Policy Institute and the Cooperative Security Initiative. The EU should “offer Russia cooperation on the basis of their shared commitment to a multipolar world order,” he argues. France, which has called “for re-engaging with Russia but encountered resistance from other EU members,” could push this “compromise proposal—one rooted in cooperation with Russia at the external level, but defense of the rights of small states and opposition to spheres of influence at the intra-European level.”
- The time has come for a radical rethink of U.S. foreign policy, argues Michael H. Fuchs of the Center for American Progress. “In the past decade,” he writes, “the United States, Russia and China have at various points cooperated on nuclear issues and climate change.” Washington will still need to “ramp up pressure on China” in response to Beijing’s repressive and aggressive policies, but “cooperation on existential threats such as climate change and pandemics must be a priority as well.”
- Several Ukraine watchers are expressing concerns about the country’s trajectory. The Financial Times’ Tony Barber describes apprehension in Western capitals and international financial institutions about President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s ability and determination “to be the truly reforming leader that Ukraine has needed since independence in 1991.” Melinda Haring and Doug Klain of the Atlantic Council worry that “Ukrainians’ once bright dreams of reform are going up in smoke,” noting that after the president “sacked his reform-minded government in March, many of the fresh leaders brought in to root out corruption, deliver economic growth, and continue westward integration have found themselves not only without a post, but under investigation and the subject of harassment and even attacks.” And a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer of Brookings, asks whether Zelenskiy is delivering on his promises of reform, warning that “Ukraine’s past 30 years are filled with episodes of rising hopes turning to disappointment. Zelenskiy should ask himself whether Ukraine and he personally can afford another one.”