Russia Analytical Report, Aug. 5-12, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • Americans tend to think of Russians as skilled chess players, yet Putin’s sport is judo, writes Angela Stent, director of Georgetown’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies. One basic judo technique involves putting an opponent off balance and taking advantage of his temporary disorientation to strike a winning blow, Stent writes, arguing that Putin has proved adept at seizing opportunities presented by the West’s disarray and its leaders’ indecisiveness.
  • Treating Moscow as an enemy may very well result in a self-fulfilling prophecy, triggering mortal threats to Moscow’s vulnerable neighbors which otherwise would probably not be in the cards, cautions Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest.
  • Twenty-one percent of young Russians think about moving to an EU country and 7 percent think about moving to the U.S., according to a 2018 survey conducted by the Berlin-based Center for East European and International Studies (ZOiS). The survey, focused on Russians ages 16 to 34, asked with which country young people would like to see Russia have closer relations, write Félix Krawatzek and Gwendolyn Sasse of ZOiS. China led with 28 percent, followed by the U.S. at 19 percent.
  • If Putin had left power in 2008, he would have gone down in history as one of Russia’s most successful leaders, writes political scientist Kirill Rogov. After 15 years of crises and upheaval in the country, a relative stability had arrived, but most importantly, a period of intense economic growth had begun, Rogov writes. Today, Putin is very unlikely to abandon his efforts to de-Westernize Russia, Rogov argues, and this fruitless, from a historical perspective, tug-of-war is likely to remain the defining characteristic of the final phase of his political career.
  • The brutal beatings of non-resisting young people in Moscow protests by officers in full riot gear seemed like a replay of Kiev, 2013, writes Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky. And yet Muscovites didn’t quite rise up in response to the beatings as Kievans had done; Bershidsky argues that while Muscovites have more to lose thanks to a low unemployment rate, a more important reason is the success of the Putin regime’s intimidation tactics, especially in the years since the last major protests in 2011.
  • The bigger issue is not who wins the standoff between a former president and the current one in Kyrgyzstan, but whether any post-Soviet leader can safely hand off power after an election, writes Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky. This has a direct bearing on Putin’s plans for 2024, Bershidsky argues, when Putin’s last constitutionally allowed presidential term ends.

I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

Nuclear security:

“US Officials Suspect New Nuclear Missile in Explosion That Killed 7 Russians,” David E. Sanger and Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times, 08.12.19: The authors, a correspondent and a reporter for the news outlet, write:

  • “American intelligence officials are racing to understand a mysterious explosion that released radiation off the coast of northern Russia last week, apparently during the test of a new type of nuclear-propelled cruise missile hailed by President Vladimir V. Putin as the centerpiece of Moscow’s arms race with the United States.”
  • “Thursday’s [Aug. 8] accident happened offshore of the Nenoksa Missile Test Site and was followed by what nearby local officials initially reported was a spike in radiation in the atmosphere. Late Sunday night [Aug. 11], officials at a research institute that had employed five of the scientists who died confirmed for the first time that a small nuclear reactor had exploded during an experiment in the White Sea, and that the authorities were investigating the cause. Vyacheslav Solovyov, the scientific director of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center, said in a video interview with a local newspaper that the institute had been studying ‘small-scale sources of energy with the use of fissile materials.’”
  • “But United States intelligence officials have said they suspect the blast involved a prototype of what NATO calls the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. That is a cruise missile that Mr. Putin has boasted can reach any corner of the earth because it is partially powered by a small nuclear reactor, eliminating the usual distance limitations of conventionally fueled missiles.”

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

“Escalation for De-Escalation? Hazy Nuclear-Weapon ‘Red Lines’ Generate Russian Advantages,” Polina Sinovets, PONARS Eurasia, 08.08.19The author, an associate professor of international relations and head of the Odessa Center for Nonproliferation at Odessa I. I. Mechnikov National University, writes:

  • “According to the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review … Russian nuclear strategy calls for the early use of nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict with NATO. It would be meant as a coercive tool to stop a major adversary from interfering in a regional conflict between Russia and its neighbors.”
  • “Nonetheless, it remains vague as to whether the Kremlin’s military strategies contain an ‘escalation for de-escalation’ procedure. Since the introduction of the concept in the early 2000s, it appears that Moscow keeps the specific conditions for when it can use nuclear weapons intentionally ambiguous in order to give itself the opportunity of being able to widely interpret the character of a conflict.”
  • “To some extent, Russia’s ‘escalation for de-escalation’ strategy has evolved since 2000 when it was mostly aimed at preserving Russia from the fate of Serbia in 1999. It was used again around the Russia-Ukraine crisis of 2014 in order to protect Russia’s sphere of influence. … The growth of Russia’s military might, along with effective nuclear coercion methods, has made Moscow’s threats real, while the dual capability of the latest Russian weapons makes it practically impossible to avoid the increased, intentional ambiguity of its operational doctrines.”

“America Could Lose a Real War Against Russia,” Timothy A. Walton, New York Times, 08.05.19The author, a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, writes:

  • “Some observers in the arms control community think that leaving the INF Treaty is dangerous and could cause an arms race. The truly dangerous choice is to continue to watch China and Russia field missile arsenals while we do little more than protest and analyze our options. Thankfully, the United States now has effective options.”
  • “With the treaty dead, the Army and Marine Corps can develop and field conventionally armed, ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles. … A mix of missiles based on new and repurposed designs should allow the Department of Defense to field significant numbers of missiles within a few years at moderate cost. China and Russia have been sprinting to build their missile forces; with the United States now out of the INF Treaty, it is time to level the playing field.”

“Is Russia Testing Nuclear Weapons Again?” Mark B. Schneider, The National Interest, 08.08.19The author, a senior analyst with the National Institute for Public Policy, writes:

  • “In May 2019, Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley, Jr., Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency … stated: ‘Russia's development of new warhead designs and overall stockpile management efforts have been enhanced by its approach to nuclear testing. The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard.’”
  • “Despite the uproar in the arms control enthusiast community about his remarks, there is substantial open-source evidence going back over two decades to support his statement. … The 2009 U.S. Strategic Commission report stated, ‘Apparently Russia and possibly China are conducting low yield tests.’”
  • “Russian press reports concerning Russian conduct of very low-yield hydro-nuclear tests have appeared since the 1990s. … There are declassified, but highly redacted CIA reports from the late 1990s that clearly discussed Russian hydro-nuclear testing.”
  • “Today, we do not have ‘science-based stockpile stewardship,’ but more like ‘political science-based stockpile stewardship’ while, conversely, Russia has science-based development of new and improved nuclear weapons.”

“The US Needs More Nukes. Russian Cheating Requires a Strong Response,” Bret Stephens, New York Times, 08.09.19The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The problem with all arms-control treaties isn’t that they lack for good intentions. It’s that the bad guys cheat, the good guys don’t and the world often finds out too late.”
  • “Right now, the U.S. arsenal does have gaps, thanks to Russian [INF] treaty violations, is increasingly decrepit, thanks to delayed modernization and may not be large enough in the face of not one, but two, major nuclear adversaries.”
  • “It was Carter’s tough decision to field the missiles to Europe, more than Reagan’s lauded decision to remove them, that did more to win the Cold War.”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“The Return of Doomsday. The New Nuclear Arms Race—and How Washington and Moscow Can Stop It,” Ernest J. Moniz and Sam Nunn, Foreign Affairs, 08.06.19The authors, a former U.S. energy secretary and a former U.S. senator, write:

  • “The United States and Russia are now in a state of strategic instability; an accident or mishap could set off a cataclysm. Not since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis has the risk of a U.S.-Russian confrontation involving the use of nuclear weapons been as high as it is today. Yet unlike during the Cold War, both sides seem willfully blind to the peril.”
  • “In Washington, the first step toward rebuilding a productive dialogue with Moscow is rebuilding a working relationship between the Trump administration and Congress on Russia policy. … To increase transparency and trust between their militaries and among militaries Europe-wide, the United States, NATO and Russia should restart a crisis-management dialogue. … The United States, NATO and Russia should also reopen channels of engagement between their respective nuclear scientific and expert communities on a variety of shared interests.”
  • “[New START Treaty:] Here, too, Congress can provide support and make clear … that funding for nuclear modernization comes with the expectation that Washington will work with Moscow to reduce nuclear risks and continue to impose verifiable limits on both sides’ arsenals. … Another top priority is finding ways to give leaders of nuclear weapons states more time to reach a decision on whether to use their nuclear weapons in a moment of crisis.”
  • “Washington and Moscow should also work together to develop clear redlines in cyberspace and outer space. … Finally, and perhaps most important, both sides should develop a set of core nuclear weapons principles, starting with the understanding … that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’”
  • “Dialogue between the two presidents remains essential: only that can create the political space for civilian and military officials in both nations to engage with one another … Congress must set a tone of bipartisan support for communicating and cooperating with Russia to reduce military risks, especially those involving nuclear weapons. To do otherwise puts Americans at grave risk.”


“The Finances and Prospects of the Islamic State After the Caliphate,” Patrick B. Johnston, Mona Alami, Colin P. Clarke and Howard J. Shatz, RAND Corporation, August 2019The authors, political analysts and economists, write:

  • “With the end of its territorial caliphate, the Islamic State will almost certainly attempt a comeback. Such efforts will require money. … As a territorial caliphate, it could openly levy taxes and fees and sell oil from fields it controlled to cover its expenses.”
  • “Now that it can no longer rely on such sources, the group will go with activities that it has used successfully in the past, as an insurgency. … Criminal activities will prove useful, with its members seeking to extort, kidnap, steal, smuggle and traffic to obtain the money they need … On top of this, the Islamic State likely has detailed information on the population it once ruled, and it appears to have sizable assets in reserve.”
  • “The United States will need to stay involved with counter–Islamic State activities across several lines of effort, including counter-finance and potentially including military action. … The most important measures in Iraq and Syria will be domestic intelligence gathering and law enforcement. Ground operations to seize the money … would preserve the money for use by legitimate governing authorities in Iraq or Syria.”
  • “It will also be important for law enforcement entities to protect affected populations in Iraq and Syria as reconstruction progresses. Better government will help alleviate some of the problems that led to the formation of the group in the first place. This will be more difficult in Syria. Military action will still be required; sanctions, for instance, are unlikely to be enough.”

Conflict in Syria:

"The Enduring American Presence in the Middle East,” Daniel Benaim and Michael Wahid Hanna, Foreign Affairs, 08.07.19The authors, a fellow and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, write:

  • “Under Trump, the U.S. military presence in the Middle East has not changed much at all. Hundreds of U.S. forces remain in Syria with an open-ended mandate (one that goes beyond the initial rationale for deployment, which was focused squarely on fighting the Islamic State).”
  • “The next administration should think hard about the opportunity costs of continuing the current disproportionately heavy focus on the Middle East. … The next administration can and should consider carefully what is actually needed to fight jihadist terrorism, deter and contain Iran and be prepared for various contingencies.”
  • “At the same time, a new administration will need to focus on reconstructing the diplomatic and development capacity that has been lost in recent years. … While the United States is almost certainly not leaving the Middle East any time soon, its presence has grown out of proportion and out of balance.”

Cyber security:

“‘The Fifth Domain’ Review: A War Zone’s New Weapons,” L. Gordon Crovitz, Wall Street Journal, 08.09.19In his review of “The Fifth Domain” by Richard A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake, the reviewer, co-CEO of NewsGuard, writes:

  • “A decade ago, the book ‘Cyber War’ sounded an alarm about the open internet being built for innovation but not for security. Now its authors, Richard Clarke and Robert Knake, counter-terrorism officials in several U.S. administrations, revisit the topic, delivering good news and really bad news.”
  • “The good news … is that companies have made surprising progress in limiting the effects of cyberattacks, though without much help from Washington. … The bad news … is that the U.S. government has fallen further behind over the past decade. The authors predict that the next major U.S. war ‘will be provoked by a cyberattack.’”
  • “The U.S. government, according to Messrs. Clarke and Knake, has failed to keep up with threats from abroad. China and Russia have re-routed internet traffic to their own servers. Iran has disrupted the websites of the largest eight U.S. banks. This year's threat analysis by the U.S. intelligence agencies acknowledged that Russia has the ability to disrupt America's power grid and that China can take control of the natural-gas pipeline.”
  • “The authors propose a new backup national power grid that would not be connected to the internet. Without it, they say, the U.S. is defenseless against ‘somebody like the Russian GRU, engaging in a cyberattack that would technologically revert us to the nineteenth century, but without all the equipment that people in the nineteenth century had to deal with life in a society without electricity.’”
  • “The authors' most provocative idea is for the U.S. to kick authoritarian regimes off the open internet.”

Elections interference:

  • No significant commentary.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Delusions About Russia,” Dimitri K. Simes, The National Interest, 08.08.19The author, president of The Center for the National Interest, writes:

  • “When I hear media pundits and members of Congress describe Russia as a major adversary and, at the same time, speak and act as though America is immune to the threat posed by the Russian military, I often wonder whether they know something that I do not. The same experts who are terrified of confrontation with North Korea, with its rudimentary nuclear arsenal, or Iran, which has no nuclear arsenal at all, take a remarkably cavalier approach towards the prospect of a clash with Russia.”
  • “Unfortunately, the threat of unintentional [U.S.-Russian] conflict escalation is not a hypothetical one. … If the survival of the country, dignity of the Russian civilization and yes, legitimacy of the regime are at stake, Russia may be prepared to accept much higher risks and absorb much greater losses than would be acceptable to Western democracies.”
  • “Russia’s grievances, real or imagined, are not justifications for the United States abandoning the pursuit of its own interest and allowing Russian domination of Eurasia. … While it is legitimate to view Russia as America’s adversary, it is mistaken to approach the relationship through a zero-sum lens.”
  • “If the United States starts treating Putin’s Russia like it is Hitler’s Germany, moves from supporting Ukrainian and Georgian sovereignty to encouraging these states to conduct hostile policies towards Moscow, and strengthens NATO’s military position in the Baltics, Russia may feel confronted by an existential threat.”
  • “Treating Moscow as an enemy may very well result in a self-fulfilling prophecy … Confrontation with Russia would force America to choose between abandoning its Eastern European client states to their fate and suffering potentially irreparable reputational damages or fighting World War III not to defend Berlin or Warsaw, but rather Mariupol or Gori. History will not forgive U.S. policymakers if they needlessly present the United States with this kind of fateful choice.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

“Putin Plays Judo, Not Chess: Russia is weak, but its leader makes the most of the West’s disarray and indecisiveness,” Angela Stent, Wall Street Journal, 08.08.19The author, director of Georgetown’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, writes:

  • “In his two decades as either president or prime minister, Mr. Putin has seen four U.S. presidents and countless other world leaders come and go. … Americans tend to think of Russians as skilled chess players. Yet Mr. Putin’s sport is … judo.”
  • “In judo, a seemingly weaker practitioner can rely on inner strength and force of will to defeat a larger, stronger foe. One basic technique involves putting an opponent off balance and taking advantage of his temporary disorientation to strike a winning blow. Mr. Putin has proved adept at seizing opportunities presented by the West’s disarray and its leaders’ indecisiveness.”
  • “Mr. Putin’s skills are on display in the Middle East, where Russia has returned as a key player … [He] has exacerbated tensions within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by befriending Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. … Russia also took advantage of the estrangement between the Obama administration and Saudi Arabia to build a strong relationship with the Saudis for the first time. More recently Mr. Putin has seized on the opportunity presented by the Trump administration’s escalating trade war with China to expand the burgeoning Sino-Russian partnership … Finally, Mr. Putin has jabbed the pressure points in the European Union.”
  • “As he marks two decades in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin has proved himself the champion judoist, profiting from divisions in the West, alert for the next opening to reinforce Russia’s international clout and quick to act.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“Why the China-Russia Alliance Won't Last,” James Jay Carafano, The National Interest,  08.05.19The author, vice president for foreign and defense policy at the Heritage Foundation, writes:

  • “Any notion that the United States could somehow seduce Russian President Vladimir Putin from playing house with Beijing is fanciful. Putin doesn’t do something for nothing; his price would be quite high. He could demand a free hand in Ukraine, or lifting sanctions. … Any of these ‘deals’ would greatly compromise American interests. … What leverage does Russia have on Beijing? The answer is not near enough to justify any of these concessions.”
  • “On the other hand, what leverage would a Russia-China alliance have on the United States? They wouldn’t jointly threaten Washington with military action. … One more thing inhibiting a Sino-Russian hookup. Russian and Chinese power is largely asymmetrical.”
  • “The primary interest of both Putin and Xi is to assure the survival of their regimes. The American squeeze play will leave them with little choice but to accept the fact that America is strong, it’s here to stay, and their regimes have to live with it.”


“History Offers Ukraine a Second Chance.,” Martin Sandbu, Financial Times, 08.06.19The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “History does not often grant second chances. But it just has in Ukraine, where new president Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party has won parliamentary elections in a landslide. It is … an opportunity for Ukraine to throw off a legacy of dysfunction that has held the country back and follow its neighbors into the European fold 30 years on.”
  • “Ukraine’s travails since independence are in a class of their own, with not one lost decade but three. The chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Sergei Guriev, points out that in 1989, Polish gross domestic product per head was comparable to Ukraine’s; today it is three times larger.”
  • “The immediate priority is to cement new foundations for de-oligarchisation … and reinforce those already in place. Strong reformers have been allowed to do good work in institutions such as the finance ministry and the central bank. It is imperative to stand by the latter’s independence, in particular its nationalization of a troubled bank previously owned by Mr Kolomoisky.”
  • “Then comes further economic reform, which should aim to improve productivity but also erode the oligarchs’ grip on the economy. A wealth tax ought to be in the mix. More competition is essential.”
  • “Europe has a particular responsibility and ability to help. … While the EU must of course demand adherence to its fundamental principles, it must do so in good faith, so as to allow Ukrainians the space to formulate policies with broad ownership in the population. To be sustained, technocracy depends on strong representative politics.”

“How to Revive and Reintegrate the Region After the Russian Invasion,” Melinda Haring, Foreign Affairs, 08.12.19The author, editor of the Atlantic Council’s UkraineAlert blog and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, writes:

  • “The Russians took and held Kramatorsk, a small city in eastern Ukraine, for about three months in 2014. Since then, the only battles this town has seen have taken place in the kitchen. Or several kitchens, to be exact. Last year, on the anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence Day, government officials sparred for the titles of ‘Best Plov,’ ‘Best Borscht,’ and ‘Best Goulash.’ This year there will be no Independence Day competition, since the organizer of the borscht battle was recently sacked.”
  • “A sense of difference between east and west pervades Ukraine in both directions. For Ukraine to succeed as an independent European country free from Moscow’s machinations, a strong sense of civic identity must take root.”
  • “One way to bridge the divide is to invite young people from western and central Ukraine to live in the east for a year. … The larger project in Ukraine is to increase levels of trust … Reopening the Kramatorsk airport would connect not only these businesses but the whole region to the outside world.”

“I Spent 25 Years Fighting Jihadis. White Supremacists Aren’t So Different,” Ali H. Soufan, New York Times, 08.07.19The author, a former FBI special agent, writes:

  • “White supremacists have the war in eastern Ukraine, in which they are fighting on both sides. Dr. Kacper Rekawek … estimates that 17,000 people from 50 countries, including the United States and many of its allies, have traveled to fight in Ukraine. Those with ties to far-right militias in Ukraine include at least one of four Americans indicted on a charge of promoting the deadly violence … in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. “
  • “The New Zealand mosque attacker claimed in his manifesto that he had traveled to Ukraine. What we know for sure is that during his attack he wore a flak jacket bearing a symbol of one of the country’s main ultranationalist groups.”
  • “Against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising to see the white-supremacist threat growing inside the United States. A study by the Anti-Defamation League found that, in 2018, right-wing extremists were responsible for three times as many deaths in the United States as were Islamists.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“A Bloody Raid Shows Why Post-Soviet Leaders Hate to Hand Off Power,” Leonid Bersidsky, Bloomberg/The Moscow Times, 08.08.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “Soviet leaders are so reluctant to part with power peacefully: It’s hard for any of them to get any kind of credible guarantee that his successor won’t try to lock him up, or worse. On Wednesday night [Aug. 7], Kyrgyz special forces tried to arrest the country’s former president, Almazbek Atambayev, at his residence near the capital, Bishkek. Atambayev, wanted on corruption charges, wasn’t easy to take, though.”
  • “Sooronbai Jeenbekov was Atambayev’s chosen successor as president. … In 2017, he won an election European observers described as competitive and praised as a peaceful power transfer. This was the first time an elected Kyrgyz leader had left his post without being overthrown … Problems arose, however, when Atambayev refused to recede quietly into the background and Jeenbekov showed a reluctance to share power with him.”
  • “The bigger issue is not who wins the standoff in tiny Kyrgyzstan … It's whether any post-Soviet leader can safely hand off power after an election. That’s also a question Ukraine’s former president Petro Poroshenko must be asking himself.”
  • “A peaceful, democratic (or at least relatively democratic) power transition isn’t everything. With post-Soviet justice systems largely unreformed and law enforcement agencies serving each master individually rather than the state, a ruler who gives up power is in grave danger, especially if he continues to dabble in politics and speak his mind. There will always be past transgressions for which he can be held responsible.”
  • “All this has a direct bearing on Putin’s plans for 2024, when his last constitutionally allowed presidential term ends.”

“How Far Did the Armenian Genocide Extend?” Dov S. Zakheim, The National Interest, 08.09.19In his review of “The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924” by Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi, the reviewer, a former undersecretary of defense and chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Defense, writes:

  • “In ‘The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924,’ Morris and Ze'evi make a compelling case that Turkey carried out a gruesome genocide on its Armenian population, but are unpersuasive in arguing that it was extended to all Christians living within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire and then what became modern Turkey.”
  • “Christians other than Armenians were certainly victims not only of ethnic cleansing but also of crimes against humanity. But successive Turkish governments did not seek to eradicate either Greeks or Assyrians simply because they were members of a distinct group. On the other hand, that was precisely the objective of the crimes that the Turks perpetrated on the Armenians, and the book certainly puts paid any lingering Turkish claims that what took place against these unfortunate victims, especially in 1915–16, was anything other than a genocide. When Hitler referred to the ‘annihilation of the Armenians,’ he knew exactly what he was talking about.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Ukrainian Villain Is Now Cracking Heads in Moscow,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg/The Moscow Times, 08.06.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “On the evening of Nov. 29, 2013, Col. Sergei Kusyuk was deputy commander of the special forces unit of the Ukrainian police, the Berkut. There had been protests that day in Kiev’s Independence Square … But by nightfall, only a handful of young people remained. … But then … the president ordered the remaining protesters dispersed … Kusyuk carried out the order with needless cruelty … The episode was the starting point of much bigger protests, which ended in Yanukovych’s overthrow and escape to Russia.”
  • “It is not likely that Ukrainian law enforcement will get its hands on Col. Kusyuk. Along with a number of his Berkut colleagues, he fled to Moscow, where he now serves in a special police unit of Russia’s National Guard called the OMON. … He was first recognized in his new role at a Moscow protest in 2017. On Saturday [Aug. 3], he was out again, commanding a huge riot police force ordered to disperse an unsanctioned protest in central Moscow.”
  • “The brutal beatings of non-resisting young people [in Moscow] by officers in full riot gear seemed like a replay of Kiev, 2013 … And yet Muscovites didn’t rise up in response to the beatings as Kievans had done.”
  • “The reasons for the difference are complex. … Muscovites have more to lose than the relatively poorer Kievans did by joining the protests, which can result in jail terms and getting effectively blacklisted for employment. … The city council is one of the country’s weakest regional legislatures, elections to it usually attract low turnouts and Muscovites care little about it.”
  • “But a more important reason, I think, is the success of the Putin regime’s intimidation tactics, especially in the years since the last big protests, against a 2011 parliamentary election widely seen as stolen.”

“Moscow’s Crisis Is Now Russia’s Crisis,” Alexander Baunov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 08.08.19The author, editor in chief of, writes:

  • “By agreeing to the brutal suppression of peaceful protests about Moscow city elections, Mayor Sobyanin has submitted to collective responsibility. For Putin and the Kremlin, it is impermissible that elections can be lost. This is a message for Russia’s next parliamentary and presidential polls.”
  • “Moscow has lost its status as a special political enclave in the country. The crackdown on protest is being directed not by the mayor but from the Kremlin. Both Russia’s rulers and the opposition see the confrontation as a trial run for a bigger showdown in the parliamentary elections of 2021 and the next presidential election of 2024.”
  • “This is not a regime that has a considered strategy and a consistent ideology; it acts in response to events. The crises, threats and successes it has experienced all leave their mark and condition future behavior. When immediate crises are over, the limits of permissible action are stretched each time. The ruling elite sees the suppression of the current demonstrations in Moscow as a kind of training exercise for putting down a future revolution. It’s an experience that they feel deeply and will remember for next time.”

“There’s More to Russia Than Putin: How the country’s governors will shape its future,” Emily Ferris, Foreign Policy, 08.06.19The author, a research fellow in the International Security Studies department at RUSI, writes:

  • “In September, 16 Russian regions—as diverse as the northern Arctic region of Murmansk and southern Stavropol—will be holding direct local and regional elections.”
  • “Although Putin is undoubtedly an important and influential figure, his domestic reach has its limits. Examining the appointment of regional governors—and where their expertise lies—could give observers a greater sense of Russia’s economic and political trajectories.”
  • “Looking to Russia’s Far East, it appears that the Kremlin—out of economic necessity rather than political power dynamics—is altering its approach to regional governorships. Instead of appointing former intelligence officials or military officers to the administration, the need to develop the Far East and fuel the Russian economy’s dependence on natural resources might be driving a demand for technocrats, with the industrial knowledge of how development works.”
  • “In turn, Russia’s strategy sheds light on what it might be prioritizing in its economic and political future, where personnel and financial resources might be allocated, and how the country might approach its neighbors. These rotations also highlight the fact that Russia is more than Putin, and that there are political changes at play beyond the Kremlin.”

“Russia's Latest Political Protests Are a Dramatic Rejection of Business as Usual,” Konstantin Dobrynin, The Washington Post, 08.06.19The author, a former member of Russia's Federation Council, writes:

  • “As the West awoke Sunday [Aug. 4] to viral videos of police beating protesters bloody in the streets of Moscow, they might not have realized that this was merely the latest in a series of similar events that the city has experienced over the past month and a half. For Russian citizens like me, this is not just business as usual.”
  • “These latest protests have left the city of Moscow on edge. Unabashed public dissent is growing quickly. When Putin held his annual press conference recently, online viewers were shocked to see dislikes outnumbering likes by ten to one—as well as comments such as ‘when will you leave?’”
  • “More missteps by the Putin regime could provoke steady movement toward change. That's because less flexibility means greater fragility. Today, as we Russians look to the sky, we can see more black swans circling.”

“Putin Can’t Afford to Speed Up Russia’s Economy,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg/The Moscow Times, 08.07.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “Even as President Vladimir Putin has turned Russia into an aggressive, backward-looking police state, competent economic management has saved the nation from an economic collapse. It’s still helping, and, according to the International Monetary Fund’s new assessment, some recent government moves that have not been appreciated in Russia are likely to lead to improved growth.”
  • “The basic strategy revolves around the 13 so-called national projects, which increase spending on infrastructure, health and education by about 1.1 percent of economic output per year from 2019 through 2024. The government has raised value-added tax starting this year to fund the increases, and it has announced an extremely unpopular pension reform.”
  • “IMF calculates that the combination of policies should lead to an acceleration of the economic growth rate by 2024 to between 1.6 percent and 2 percent … None of this, however, is particularly ambitious, and a 2 percent growth rate won’t help Russia to start catching up with its peers. The problem, though, is that almost nothing the IMF proposes to achieve a faster pace is politically feasible.”
  • “Given the regime’s political constraints, it’s hard to see how Russia can defuse economic time bombs like falling private investment, chronic capital outflow and a frightening structure of household debt (households paying out 50 percent of their income to service consumer loans account for 37 percent of the total debt amount).”

“20 Years of Vladimir Putin: The Rise and Decline of a Regime,” Kirill Rogov, Vedomosti/The Moscow Times, 08.09.19The author, a political scientist, writes:

  • “Twenty years ago, Vladimir Putin appeared … in the guise of an effective bureaucrat with a security services background; a market-oriented statesman and pragmatist without ideological pretenses.”
  • “Today Putin is a powerful authoritarian leader of the ‘strongman’ type, engaged in a political confrontation with the West and an ideological struggle with global liberalism, in the service of which he is decisively sacrificing any pragmatic goals for developing the country.”
  • “If Putin had left power in 2008, he would have gone down in history as one of Russia’s most successful leaders. After 15 years of crises and upheaval in the country, a relative stability had arrived … but most importantly of all, a period of intense economic growth had begun. … Putin did not simply fail to leave in 2008. In fact, this was the point at which his goals underwent a decisive change. … The change … refused to recognize the borders that had resulted from the collapse of the USSR, leading to a decisive turn away from cooperation toward confrontation with the West.”
  • “It is possible that all of this would have been a great success, if the emerging Putin system had demonstrated economic effectiveness, at least at a level comparable to that achieved in authoritarian Kazakhstan ... But the Putin system was unable to do this. … While in 2000 GDP per capita in Russia was 14.5 percent of that of the U.S. and 21.5 percent of the EU average, in 2008 it was 22.5 and 32 percent respectively, and in 2018—21.5 and 31 percent. This is stagnation … despite the fact that the average annual oil price was $54 per barrel during the first period, and $74 in the second.”
  • “Putin is very unlikely to abandon his efforts to de-Westernize Russia. And this fruitless, from a historical perspective, tug-of-war is likely to remain the defining characteristic of the final phase of his political career.”

“Two Decades of Putin,” Kadri Liik, European Council on Foreign Relations, 08.09.19The author, a senior policy fellow at ECFR, writes:

  • “Two decades on from his ascent to power, Putin cuts a lonely figure in a political desert. Every now and then, one can feel his frustration with this. He probably wants to see the emergence of an energetic and loyal political class who will show initiative, bear responsibility, take over some of his duties and, indeed, one day allow him to retire. But, alas, the many people out there he might choose from all seem to lack initiative, ideas and imagination.”

“One Out of Five Russians Wants to Leave the Country. Here’s Who They Are,” Félix Krawatzek and Gwendolyn Sasse, The Washington Post/Monkey Cage, 08.12.19The authors, a senior researcher at the Center for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) in Berlin and the academic director of ZOiS, write:

  • “A recent Gallup poll made headlines in Russia with the revelation that a record 20 percent of the population wanted to leave their country. Among younger Russians, the figure was far higher: For 15- to 29-year-olds, a staggering 44 percent indicated that they would like to migrate. Where did they hope to go? Germany (15 percent) and the United States (12 percent) were the most popular.”
  • “[W]e conducted a survey in 2018 that focused on the younger cohort, ages 16 to 34. Our online survey includes 2,000 respondents who live in the 15 Russian Federation cities with a population of 1 million or more. … In the ZOiS survey, 54 percent of respondents voiced the intention to migrate—of these 50 percent consider moving within the Russian Federation, 21 percent … to a European Union country and 7 percent to the United States.”
  • “There’s a strong correlation with preexisting transnational links—a previous migration experience, having family or friends abroad, having traveled beyond Russia or receiving financial remittances from friends or family living abroad. We noticed a strong link between travel experience and preferred migration destination.”
  • “Our survey includes a question about the country with which young people would like to see Russia have closer relations. The most frequently mentioned individual country is China (28 percent), followed by the United States (19 percent). EU countries as a whole were mentioned by 19 percent … with Germany (7 percent) claiming the top spot.”
  • “It’s not possible to predict if and when anyone’s migration intentions might materialize, but these findings flag an important challenge for the Russian regime. Unfulfilled economic and political expectations of the younger generation could lead to higher migration rates, and the loss of highly qualified labor.”

“What’s Behind Russia’s New Offensive Against the Internet Economy?” Alexandra Prokopenko, Carnegie Moscow Center, 08.12.19The author, an independent journalist, writes:

  • “In recent months, Russia has launched a new attack on web-based companies. Often, these measures are presented as efforts to combat terrorism. However, behind them lies a union of bureaucrats and security agents, the business aspirations of state capitalists, and the Russian authorities’ desire to control the internet.”
  • “In these conditions, competitive development and innovation simply cannot occur. And the cost of the bureaucrats and security agents’ joint efforts can be easily measured: major losses due to technological and innovation lag in the medium term as the country tries to digitalize the economy.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.