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 Trump administration threatened Sept. 16 to impose fresh sanctions to deter China and Russia from selling weapons to Iran after an arms embargo on Iran expires next month, the Wall Street Journal reports. The administration’s stance has been viewed skeptically by some former government sanctions officials who say that China and Russia are likely to refrain from shipping arms to Iran as they wait to see whether U.S. President Donald Trump is re-elected, and that some of the new U.S. sanctions may be duplicative.
- Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, warned a House committee on Sept. 17 that Russia is actively pursuing a disinformation campaign against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the New York Times reports. Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia would pay an “economic price” for continuing to interfere in U.S. elections if he wins the White House, according to the Financial Times.
- The share of Russians with a good or very good attitude toward the U.S. remained steady at 42 percent from January to August 2020, as did the share of Russians who have a bad or very bad attitude toward the U.S. (46 percent), according to the Levada Center’s latest report on the results of its recent opinion polls asking Russians about their attitudes toward other countries. At the same time, the share of Russians who view the U.S. as the most hostile country to Russia declined from 67 percent in 2019 to 60 percent in 2020.
- The OPCW is expected to release in the coming days the results of its own analysis of biomedical samples collected from Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny by its team of experts. If those results confirm the German, French and Swedish findings, the German government would move quickly to impose financial sanctions on Russia through EU, the New York Times reports. French President Emmanuel Macron had told Putin in a phone call that France’s own analysis had concluded that Navalany had been poisoned by Novichok and reiterated his “full solidarity with Germany on the steps to be taken,” according to the Financial Times.
- “China has a vast population, its resources, its vast dynamism of its economy," U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at an event organized by RAND, "very different from Russia in terms of demographics." "We see Russia as a challenge right now, but in the future, less so," Esper said according to U.S. News.
- For the first time this year, less than 50 percent of the trade between China and Russia was denominated in the U.S. dollar, CTGN reports.
- Belarus will close its borders with Poland and Lithuania and step up security measures at the Ukrainian frontier, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said, calling on the people of Poland and Lithuania to “stop your crazy politicians,” whom he warned are spoiling for war, according to The Moscow Times. When hosting Lukashenko in Sochi on Sept. 14, Putin offered a $1.5 billion loan and promised to hold joint military exercises with Belarus “practically every month” for the next year,” the Financial Times reports. However, Putin also urged dialogue with Lukashenko’s opponents. Meanwhile, the European Union’s top diplomat has said that the bloc does not recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus, according to RFE/RL.
This Week’s Highlights:
- There is a mismatch between the Western concept of deterrence and the Russian concept of sderzhivanie, particularly when the latter is strategic, argues Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. Strategic sderzhivanie encompasses several Western concepts in a multi-domain, cross-cutting effort to shape the strategic environment to serve Russia’s objectives using a range of both soft and hard power tools of statecraft in peacetime and during conflict. Grouping these disparate behaviors under a term that implies a defensive posture, the author believes, could create misperceptions in the Kremlin and enable destabilizing behavior.
- With military tension among great powers increasing in east Asia, central Europe and the Middle East, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and others have proposed a summit of the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, also known as the P5—to find a way forward. Paul Saunders, a senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy at the Center for the National Interest, argues that, while reducing tension and avoiding direct armed conflict are certainly desirable, a P5 summit is unlikely to offer workable solutions. Perversely, in fact, Putin’s proposed project, Saunders writes, might only succeed if the United States owns it and leads it.
- Russo-German relations have been deteriorating for nearly a decade now, writes Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. It’s unrealistic to think they might be restored to a partnership in the foreseeable future, but there is still a chance to stop the relationship from descending into one of hostility. To achieve that, Trenin argues, Russia needs to dial down the public rhetoric, conduct a thorough investigation of what exactly happened to opposition politician Alexei Navalny on Russian soil and develop a detailed and well-argued position before discussing the issue at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
- Two conditions need to be present for Russia and China to align with the aim of balancing a U.S. threat, argues Simon Saradzhyan, founding director of Russia Matters. First, Russia’s ability to single-handedly deter the U.S./NATO would have to come into doubt, while its relations with the West would have to remain as bad as today or become even more adversarial. Second, China’s ability to single-handedly deter the U.S./NATO would have to come into doubt, while its relations with the West would have to become adversarial.
- Increasing the proportion of women in the Russian military could help Moscow not only meet manning requirements and shift toward professionalization but also provide myriad other advantages, writes Mary Chesnut, a research analyst in the Russia Studies Program at CNA Corporation. Significant obstacles, however, suggest that the status quo will remain: lack of pressure from civil society, associated infrastructural costs of gender integration, violence and sexual assault and pervasive views about gender among the highest ranks and public alike.
- If a full-scale crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus leads to turmoil, his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, will have little choice but to send in his “reserve,” according to the Financial Times editorial board. Not doing so, they write, would make him look weak in his own backyard; doing so, however, would prompt another perilous stand-off with the West and new sanctions. Sabine Fischer and Astrid Sahm of Germany’s SWP, meanwhile, argue that a constitutional reform could offer a solution in Belarus. But it would have to be flanked by confidence-building measures and guarantees, they write, adding that Moscow might potentially see benefits in such a scenario: The Kremlin’s backing for Lukashenko risks fostering anti-Russian sentiment in Belarus’s traditionally pro-Russian society.