Russia Analytical Report, Dec. 2-9, 2019

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.

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • No significant commentary.

NATO-Russia relations:

“It’s Time to Rethink NATO’s Deterrent Strategy,” Melanie W. Sisson, War on the Rocks, 12.06.19The author, a senior fellow with the Stimson Center, writes:

  • “NATO is not primarily a warfighting alliance. Its purpose, in fact, is to not fight war. … NATO’s posture … persisted out of inertia, without the careful tuning successful deterrence requires. Today’s Russia is not yesterday’s Soviet Union. Its actions in Georgia and in Ukraine arguably have addressed its most acute Cold War territorial complaints, and its other motivating interests are fairly inoffensive by historical standards—it is a major power that wants to be acknowledged as such.”
  • “The current NATO deterrent strategy is expensive, and there are important areas in which it is unlikely to be useful.”
  • “The United States and NATO, for example, profess great concern about Russian so-called gray-zone activities … So too are alarms being raised about the possibility of another fait accompli on the order of Russia’s maneuver in Crimea. A presence-focused strategy, however, is ill-suited to preventing gray-zone malfeasance, and the lingering agitation about a fait accompli in the Baltics derives primarily from the proposition that such a move is operationally possible, rather than that Russia finds it especially appealing.”
  • “Effective deterrence depends upon convincing an adversary that one has both the means and the motivation to make good on a threat. … A forthcoming study by the Stimson Center and the University of Maryland Center for International Development and Conflict Management produced statistical evidence that when it comes to conveying one’s resolve to an adversary, the most persuasive indicator is the movement of forces from outside the theater of contested interests into it.”
  • “NATO does not need more eastern presence to convey its resolve; 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.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Arms control:

“Don’t Let START Stop,” James F. Collins, David Mathews, Vitaliy Naumkin and Yury Shafranik, Dartmouth Conference, 12.05.19: The authors, participants in the Dartmouth Conference, write:

  • “Drawing upon six decades of constructive contacts between American and Russian citizens, we the participants in the latest Dartmouth Conference have decided to issue this urgent appeal to our governments, warning of the dangers of a new nuclear arms race and strongly urging both governments to act immediately to extend the New START Treaty beyond its February 2021 expiration.”
  • “Given the deep concerns we share about the security of our peoples, for the first time in our history we are compelled by the urgency of the situation to issue this public appeal to our governments, founded on our view that the clear threat of an uncontrolled nuclear arms race has re-emerged with the collapse in recent years of key elements of the post-Cold War arms control architecture.”
  • “The Treaty is scheduled to expire in February 2021, but includes a provision enabling a relatively simple five-year extension at any point before that date, if the two governments agree to do so.”
  • “Its extension will provide a solid foundation upon which to base a broadened, global security dialogue, and will send a positive signal of the ability of Russia and the United States to reach agreement on issues of existential global and national importance, despite our significant differences in other areas. We see this as a paramount moral obligation of both our governments before our own peoples, and the world at large. We respectfully urge our governments to begin discussions immediately to this end.”

“A nuclear weapons offer not to refuse,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 12.09.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “It is not very often that the Kremlin issues a transcript of remarks by President Vladimir Putin with a sentence marked in highlighter, but that's what happened Dec. 5 when Mr. Putin met with leaders of Russia's defense industry. The highlighted sentences said Russia is willing to renew the New START nuclear weapons treaty immediately, before the year is out, and without any preconditions. This is an offer that President Trump ought not refuse.”
  • “There is no evidence Mr. Trump has made any serious effort to talk to China about nuclear weapons reductions, and given the current tensions with Beijing over trade and human rights, it would seem problematic.”
  • “So what is Mr. Trump's strategy? Is he using the China angle as a poison pill to avoid extension of New START and cause the treaty to expire? If so, it would mark yet another plank crashing from the already-rickety structure of arms-control treaties intended to restrain the nuclear danger. New START is the last of the major nuclear agreements still in force, and it should be given five more years.”

“What the End of the INF Treaty Means for China,” Andrey Baklitskiy, Carnegie Moscow Center, 12.02.19The author, a foreign affairs researcher, writes:

  • “Beijing perceives the U.S. withdrawal from the INF and possible deployment of ground-based missiles to Asia as part of Washington’s broader campaign to contain China.”
  • “Overall, China can view its chances in a potential intermediate-range missile race in Asia fairly confidently, thanks to its head start in the form of its existing arsenal, manufacturing capacity, convenient geographic location and its chances of influencing Washington’s allies.”
  • “At the same time, Beijing would have preferred to avoid all this. … Beijing still doesn’t have a full-fledged nuclear triad, and in the event of an armed conflict, its ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) will most likely find themselves confined inside the first island chain, from which they will not be able to threaten the continental United States.”
  • “Under these conditions, China could be interested in talks with the United States on arms control … but the asymmetry in the risks and interests, and the lack of an obvious subject for limitation and of enthusiasm on the U.S. side for talks on a truly equal footing mean that such talks are very unlikely.”
  • “The Russian proposal of a moratorium opens up new opportunities for Moscow and Beijing to consult with each other and coordinate their response to the probable deployment of U.S. missiles in the Asia-Pacific region. Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, took part in talks in Beijing devoted to arms control on Nov. 27. The task facing Russian diplomats is to avoid turning a response to U.S. actions (including possible mutual non-deployment in Europe) into an irritant in Russia-China relations.”

“Open Skies: Trump’s next big blunder?” Gustav Gressel, European Council on Foreign Relations, 12.04.19The author, a senior policy fellow at ECFR, writes:

  • “Rumors that Donald Trump intends to leave the Open Skies Treaty have become so numerous over the past month that it feels like an open secret. … Because the U.S. and Russia both have high-resolution reconnaissance satellites, neither would lose much from cancelling the treaty; the losing side would be Europe.”
  • “Intelligence sharing in NATO is not a sufficient substitute.”
  • “Bringing it to an end before a successor agreement is ready would be a great diplomatic blunder. Satellites could not replace the treaty’s signaling role, as it would not be made known to the Russians that they are being observed. Significantly amending and improving the Vienna Document could achieve this aim, but this would require a parallel push which is not yet even under way. In the absence of such an effort from the U.S., abandoning the Open Skies Treaty will only add to Washington’s reputation for strategic ignorance and reduce the options available to it as it manages its relations with Russia.”

“Disruption and Regression,” Michael Krepon, Arms Control Wonk, 12.08.19The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes:

  • “How do you persuade a president who skates erratically over the surface of important matters to dump the hard-won achievements of his predecessors? Thanks to Tim Morrison, recently of the National Security Council staff, we have the formula. You appeal to his vanity and fondness for disruption. Then you adopt a negotiating posture that won’t work and choose a negotiator who defines failure as success.”
  • “It doesn’t take heavy lifting to convince the Disruptor-in-Chief to disrupt. He has convinced himself that environmental protection and trade compacts are bad for profits and manufacturing. As for agreements that reduce nuclear dangers and weapons, Trump has been persuaded by two simple arguments: either that Russian cheating disadvantages the United States or that China must be included.”
  • “Leaving the Open Skies Treaty is as regressive as not extending New START.”
  • “Treaty trashing doesn’t require persuasive arguments with the Disruptor-in-Chief. Tear downs are simple. The global nuclear order becomes even more wobbly as a result. The re-build will be somebody else’s problem.”

Counter-terrorism:

“Can NATO Shift Its Mission from Deterring Russia to Tackling Terrorism?” Daniel R. DePetris, The National Interest, 12.04.19The author, a fellow at Defense Priorities, writes:

  • “When asked to cite NATO’s top security priority today, most point to the Russian Bear in the east. … French President Emmanuel Macron, however, has a different opinion about how NATO should concentrate its resources and attention. Russia and China are not the enemies of NATO, Macron said days before the French leader flew to London for a one-day meeting of the alliance. ‘Our common enemy today is terrorism, which has hit each of our countries,’ the French leader asserted.” 
  • “Terrorism is an amorphous, unconventional nuisance that can occur randomly and at a spur of the moment. Attacks can be conducted with the crudest of weapons. Terrorists in Europe have executed plots that are basic and unsophisticated but deadly, like a driver using his truck to run over pedestrians in a Berlin Christmas market or a lone extremist slashing people with a knife at the base of the London Bridge. Counterterrorism is best left to intelligence agencies and police departments that can cultivate sources, pick up trends and work with local communities to prevent attacks from taking place.  A multilateral military alliance that crosses an ocean is not suited for this job.”

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant commentary.

Cyber security:

“The UN passed a Russia-backed cybercrime resolution. That’s not good news for Internet freedom,” Mark Raymond, The Washington Post, 12.04.19The author, director of the Cyber Governance and Policy Center at the University of Oklahoma, writes:

  • “On Nov. 18, a United Nations committee passed a Russia-backed cybercrime resolution by a vote of 88 to 58, with 34 countries abstaining. Russia, Belarus, Cambodia, China, Iran, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Syria and Venezuela sponsored the resolution, titled ‘Countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes.’ The United States said it is ‘disappointed with the decision.’ The resolution creates a drafting group to create terms of reference for a global ‘cybercrime’ treaty.”
  • “The 2019 resolution creates an expert group to draft terms of reference for a multilateral treaty. This puts countries committed to Internet openness in an awkward position. If they join the drafting group, they undermine their own principled opposition to the resolution creating it, advancing the Russian and Chinese agenda. But if the United States and other champions of an open Internet boycott the process, authoritarian regimes will be free to shape the treaty's terms of reference in ways that advance digital authoritarianism even more.”
  • “At the global level, Russia and China are advancing their Internet model within and alongside the existing liberal international order. This leaves democracies grappling with the tensions in their approach to Internet governance—while countries like the United States are losing support for the concept of a truly global and open Internet. Russia's successful U.N. proposal is just the latest evidence of how authoritarian regimes are getting better at using multilateral institutions to advance their approach to the Internet.”

“Russia Is Teaching the World to Spy,” Alina Polyakova, New York Times, 12.05.19The author, director of the project on global democracy and emerging technology and fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes:

  • “China isn’t the only merchant offering digital surveillance tools to strongmen. It may be tempting to dismiss Russia as irrelevant in this domain, but that would be a mistake. In fact, Russia’s low-tech model of digital authoritarianism could prove to be more readily adaptable and enduring.”
  • “While Beijing instituted government control over the internet in the 1990s, the internet in Russia penetrated society relatively unencumbered. … That’s why the Russian government had to build a digital surveillance infrastructure that could sit on top of an open digital space, using fewer state resources than are used by China. Enter the System of Operative Search Measures, or SORM, which is based on a Soviet-era surveillance system for monitoring telephone calls.”
  • “Russia is also exporting ideas. The so-called ‘sovereign internet’ law, signed by President Vladimir Putin earlier this year, came into effect on Nov. 1. Theoretically, the law enables the government to cut off the Russian internet in whole or in parts from the global internet.”
  • “Other countries have followed Moscow’s lead: In November, amid widespread protests, Iran successfully shut down the internet across the country.”
  • “As the United States grows skeptical of Chinese technology companies and tries to pressure other countries to join a crackdown, Russian surveillance technology exporters may step in to offer an alternative, and perhaps more affordable, model of digital authoritarianism.”

“We need to hold the Kremlin responsible for its 2018 cyberattack on the Olympics,” Andy Greenberg, The Washington Post, 12.04.19The author, a writer for Wired Magazine, writes:

  • “On Feb. 9, 2018, hackers working in the service of Russia's military intelligence agency known as the GRU carried out an appalling act of sabotage: a targeted cyberattack designed to digitally cripple the Olympics.”
  • “The worm, which would later come to be known as ‘Olympic Destroyer,’ tore down the IT back end responsible for everything from WiFi to the official Olympics app to the games' ticketing system.”
  • “America's silence leaves the 2020 Olympics open to another cyberattack.”

Elections interference:

“Blaming Document Dumps on Russia Won’t Cut It; Boris Johnson should deal with the substance of what the leaks reveal about post-Brexit trade talks with the U.S,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 12.09.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “If it’s true that the leak of trade negotiation readouts between the U.K. and the U.S. was part of a Russian influence operation, it’s the third such document dump ahead of a major nation's election in as many years. This has created a new knee-jerk reaction among affected politicians: Blame the Russians to dismiss the leak.”
  • “It would be more responsible on the part of political leaders to deal with the substance of the documents … It goes without saying in today’s almost borderless world that foreign powers will have favorites in important countries’ elections. Democratic countries may try to subtly influence the vote through statements, winks and nudges; Russia seems to take a different approach. In this case, voters may have at least been given more information about their choice than the government was prepared to share.”
  • “The Clinton campaign should have figured out how deal with the revelations from the emails so that Donald Trump couldn’t turn his campaign into an anti-corruption one. Blaming Russia didn’t really help. Johnson, for his part, should be able to reassure British voters that he’s not about to pull the country into some kind of common market with the U.S. on American terms.”
  • “At the end of the day, political opponents and the public never quite forget revelations left unanswered, and the questions will not go away even if he manages to sweep them under the rug and come out on top this time.”

“How Social Media Companies are Failing to Combat Inauthentic Behaviour Online,” Sebastian Bay and Rolf Fredheim, NATO’s Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, November 2019The authors of the report write:

  • “To test the ability of social media companies to identify and remove manipulation, we bought engagement on 105 different posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube using 11 Russian and 5 European (1 Polish, 2 German, 1 French, 1 Italian) social media manipulation service providers.”
  • “In a test of the platforms’ ability to independently detect misuse, we found that four weeks after purchase, 4 in 5 of the bought inauthentic engagements were still online. We further tested the platforms ability to respond to user feedback by reporting a sample of the fake accounts. Three weeks after reporting, more than 95% of the reported accounts were still active online.”
  • “Self-regulation is not working. The manipulation industry is growing year by year. We see no sign that it is becoming substantially more expensive or more difficult to conduct wide-spread social media manipulation.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Moscow is being forced to change its energy strategy. Russia’s power in oil and gas is curtailed by the buyer’s market,” Nick Butler, Financial Times, 12.09.19The author, visiting professor and chair of the Kings Policy Institute at Kings College London, writes:

  • “Moscow’s energy policy made a sharp transition with two developments last week. The new Power of Siberia pipeline taking gas from Russia to China was last Monday [Dec. 2] inaugurated by presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, and marks a turn by Moscow to the east. Then, at the end of the week, Russian ministers attended the OPEC meeting in Vienna and accepted that Russian production would be cut further as part of the cartel’s attempt to stabilize prices. The continued engagement means that Russia—having for decades pursued a fiercely independent oil policy—is now effectively OPEC’s 15th member state.”
  • “Russia remains a major player in the international energy market—it was a net exporter in 2018 of more than 9 million barrels a day of oil and almost 250 billion cubic meters of natural gas. But it is finding itself in a buyer’s market that it cannot control.”
  • “The first big success has been the growth in production and exports. Oil production is up from 6 million barrels per day [b/d] in 1999 to more than 11 million b/d last year and gas production from 52 billion cubic feet a day to 65bcf. … The second big Russian success story has been Rosatom, the state-owned nuclear business that continues to develop civil reactors and has construction deals with countries including China, Egypt, Hungary and Iran.”
  • “Growing oil and gas exports have brought substantial revenues over Mr. Putin’s decades in power. But the wealth created has not been well used, and the economy has not been diversified. Oil and gas still account for 60 percent of exports and provide half of the entire federal budget.”
  • “In common with all the other petroeconomies, Russia is trapped by circumstances beyond its control and highly exposed to any further downward shift in global energy prices.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant commentary.

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“What the New EU Leadership Should Do About Russia,” Sabine Fischer, Carnegie Moscow Center, 12.04.19The author, a core group member of the EU-Russia Expert Network on Foreign Policy, writes:

  • “At the level of EU member states, on the other hand, this debate [on EU’s Russia policy) is in full swing—thanks to recent steps taken by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has demanded on various occasions that Europe clarify its relationship with Russia.”
  • “The primary task of the new EU leadership will be to take up Macron’s initiative promptly 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, for three reasons.”
  • “First, Moscow is acting from a position of strength. Russian foreign policy has successfully overcome the international isolation imposed by the West in 2014 … Secondly, Moscow does not take the EU seriously. From a Russian perspective, the EU has never been much more than an appendix of the United States. … Thirdly, neither Russia’s domestic politics nor its foreign policy are likely to change before or even after the presidential election in 2024.”
  • “The new EU leadership needs to initiate an internal debate at the highest level to mitigate the recent divisions and achieve a reunited position on Russia.”

“Russia cannot be allowed to send killers to Germany—or anywhere else,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 12.06.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Germany’s decision to expel two Russian diplomats should not be the end of its response to the brazen killing of a former Chechen rebel in a Berlin park this past August. Germany is right to signal its unhappiness with Russia's refusal to cooperate in the investigation. But if the probe establishes that the Russian Federation or its proxy in Chechnya dispatched the hired gun, more severe action must follow.”
  • “No civilized nations can be indifferent to this outlaw behavior. Russia cannot be allowed to send killers with impunity to Europe or anywhere else. When the probe is complete, Germany must respond with the strongest possible measures.”

“Is a “Reset” Between France and Russia Needed and, If So, Is It Possible?” Tatiana Kastouéva-Jean, Russia Matters, 12.09.19: The author, head of the Russia-NIS Center of Ifri, writes:

  • “Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, France’s Russia policy—both Hollande’s and Macron’s—is frequently summed up by the double formula "dialogue and firmness." France is committed to defending its security, European and transatlantic solidarity, as well as democratic and liberal values, while maintaining and expanding political, economic and cultural dialogue with Russia.”
  • “Since the beginning of the summer of 2019, France’s Russia policy is strongly leaning toward dialogue rather than firmness.”
  • “This summer flexion of French politics can be explained by several reasons. In the context of Brexit, the political eclipse of Germany linked to the end of Angela Merkel's mandate and the recent renewal of European authorities, France is de facto the only country in Europe able to formulate relevant initiatives in regard to Russia.”
  • “On the opposite side, Putin certainly appreciates France’s openness, which allows him to reaffirm once again his positions and to show, internally and internationally, how much Russia matters for Europe and the West. But the risk is that it makes a bad reading of the last French openings.”
  • “We can therefore anticipate contradictory tendencies that will continue to shape the dialogue with Russia … The time for a "strategic and historical dialogue" with Russia, which Macron wanted, does not seem to have come yet. It remains for France to work to avoid further degradation in the immediate future and to prepare for the long-term future by fully fulfilling its role as a responsible power respectful of multilateralism, international law, Europeans values.”

“In British Elections, a (Non) Debate on Russia,” Lincoln Pigman, The Moscow Times, 12.09.19The author, a research fellow at the Foreign Policy Centre in London, writes:

  • “On Thursday, Dec. 12, Britons will elect a new parliament. … The reality is that neither Labour nor the Conservative Party is willing or concerned enough to spend political capital to prioritize reviving U.K.–Russia relations, to the extent that neither party has offered a real plan for doing so.  But that has not stopped them from aggressively trading accusations that the other party has been compromised by, and is presumably soft on, Russia.”
  • “Reasonable people can disagree about how best to deal with Russia and what balance of dialogue and deterrence to strike in relations with it. But those running for the job of prime minister seem to be content with the U.K.–Russia relationship remaining in crisis and the U.K.’s Russia policy remaining on autopilot, a bipartisan indifference equaled only by the bipartisan enthusiasm for Russia’s use as a political football.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“Russia Taps Into Chinese Gas Market via Power of Siberia Pipeline,” Sergei Kapitonov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 12.05.19The author, a gas analyst at the Energy Center of the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo, writes:

  • “Gazprom launched its Power of Siberia pipeline to China on Dec. 2: the Russian company’s first step onto a Chinese gas route stretching for more than 8,000 kilometers. … [I]t is a long overdue step in the right direction in developing the strategic relationship with China in the gas sector.”
  • “Yet plenty of questions remain about the implementation of future pipeline projects. How far will demand for gas in China be managed? What opportunities does China have to develop its own resources? What will be the state of the global LNG market, and how tough will China’s negotiating position be on prices? The answers to these questions will forge the outline of the future relationship between the world’s biggest exporter of energy resources and its biggest consumer of them.”

“Crisis, what crisis? The US needs NATO as much as ever,” Philip Stephens, Financial Times, 12.09.19The author, associate editor of the Financial Times and director of its editorial board, writes:

  • “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. Quitting Europe would see the U.S. deliver to Beijing its most important strategic ambition.”
  • “Pulling back across the Atlantic would do more than deprive the U.S. of the allies and the bases needed to defend its global interests. Rather, it would redefine the U.S. as a hemispheric power, a regional rather than global player. Many Americans, I know, have tired of the global policeman role. I have not heard many suggest a retreat into isolationism. Until then, NATO is safe.”

Ukraine:

This digest was completed prior to publication of any substantive analysis on the outcome of Dec. 9’s Normandy Format summit and the bilateral meeting of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of that summit.

“The West has a choice: back Ukraine or improve relations with Russia,” Tony Barber, Financial Times, 12.05.19The author, Europe editor of the Financial Times, writes:

  • “A bargain over Ukraine may seem a remote prospect, given that frictions between Moscow and the West are at their most acute for more than 30 years. Moreover, any compromise would be highly controversial in Ukraine if it ignored the patriotic pride in independence that emerged after Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014.”
  • “President Emmanuel Macron of France wants to reset the West’s relations with Moscow. … In practice, some Western capitals have quietly written off Crimea and do not wish to encourage Ukraine’s hopes of joining NATO and the EU.”
  • “Then there is the China factor. In the view of some strategists in Washington, an arrangement with Moscow that ruled out full Ukrainian alignment with the West could bring closer another prize. They seek a less confrontational Russia, which distances itself from China … Would Russia, under Mr. Putin or any successor, really take this bait?”
  • “[I]t is becoming harder for Mr. Putin to justify the Ukraine war’s costs to disenchanted Russians. For the first time since 2014, Moscow appears interested in dialing down the conflict—but not at any price. Mr. Putin is perfectly capable of maintaining military and political pressure on Ukraine if he receives no Western concessions.”
  • “A breakthrough on Ukraine seems … unlikely at Paris and may have to wait, at best, until the 2020 U.S. election campaign is over.”

“Why care about Ukraine and the Budapest Memorandum?” Steven Pifer, Brookings Institution, 12.05.19The author, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, writes:

  • “The furor over President Donald Trump’s sordid bid to extort the president of Ukraine into investigating his potential 2020 political opponent raises an obvious question: Why should the United States care so much about Ukraine, a country 5,000 miles away? A big part of the reason is that U.S. officials told the Ukrainians the United States would care when negotiating the Budapest Memorandum on security assurances, signed 25 years ago.”
  • “The United States should continue to provide reform and military assistance to Ukraine. It should continue sanctions on Russia. It should continue to demand that Moscow end its aggression against Ukraine. And it should continue to urge its European partners to assist Kyiv and keep the sanctions pressure on the Kremlin. Washington should do this, because it said it would act if Russia violated the Budapest Memorandum. That was part of the price it paid in return for a drastic reduction in the nuclear threat to America. The United States should keep its word.”

“It’s Time for Ukraine to Let the Donbas Go,” Alexander J. Motyl, Foreign Policy, 12.06.19The author, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, writes:

  • “The Donbas has consistently supported Ukraine’s most retrograde, anti-reformist, anti-European, pro-Russian and pro-Soviet political forces. … Russian President Vladimir Putin’s occupation of the eastern Donbas in the summer of 2014 effectively disenfranchised its voters. That was bad for the voters, but it enabled pro-democratic forces in unoccupied Ukraine to win the presidency and control of the country’s parliament.”
  • “Reintegrating the Donbas will reverse much of the progress Ukraine has made in the last five years. But it could make things even worse for two further reasons. First, the economy of the eastern Donbass is in free fall, and its GDP may have contracted by more than 75 percent since 2014. … Second, there are some 35,000 separatist soldiers in the region. … [D]isarming them would fall upon Ukraine’s shoulders.”
  • “Beyond that, at present, some 2 or 3 soldiers are killed by pro-Russian forces every week along the line of demarcation.”
  • “Kyiv need not officially hand the territory over to Russia or state that has no interest in the region’s eventual reintegration. Perhaps the time will be right in a decade or two, when Ukraine has the economic, political, social and military wherewithal to cope with reconstruction and reintegration of this scale. … Until that time comes, however, Ukrainians should remember that, sometimes, less is much, much more.”

“What the West Gets Wrong About Russia’s Intentions in Ukraine,” Tatiana Stanovaya, Foreign Policy, 12.06.19The author, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Rather than annexation, the Kremlin’s initial goal in supporting pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine was to secure legal autonomy for the Donbas region within a federal Ukraine. Russia would then hold sway over a prominent piece of territory within Ukraine, which would effectively give Moscow a veto vote in Kyiv over the country’s strategic rapprochement with the West.”
  • “Putin surely knew that invading and occupying Ukraine—not to mention creating a permanently simmering conflict—would have been too bloody and too expensive. Nor would an invasion have helped Russia cement influence over Ukrainian politics at minimal geopolitical cost.”
  • “The main obstacle to any change in Russia’s Ukraine policy is a deeply engrained belief among Russian leadership that making any concessions will lead to ever greater Western pressure and demands. That’s why, whatever other concessions Russia can make, its red line will remain firm: The Kremlin will continue to hold a political foothold in the Donbas that will provide it with leverage to influence Ukraine’s foreign policy. And even smaller concessions are off the table as long as Russia fears a hawkish West.”

“Ukraine’s Divided House Still Stands: The Country Debates Whether Donbas Can Be Brought in From the Cold,” Brian Milakovsky, Foreign Affairs, 12.04.19The author, an independent commentator on the Donbas conflict, writes:

  • “The war is now in its fifth year. During this time, the Donbas has split in two. One part, centering on the industrial cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, is administered by separatists installed by the Kremlin. The other part remains under the administration of the Ukrainian government in Kyiv.”
  • “The residents of the Kremlin-backed ‘republics’ make up only a part of Ukraine’s pro-Russian electorate, which declined after the start of the war but still extends well into the country’s east and south. Political commentator and Donetsk native Enrique Menendez told me, ‘Even without the return of voters from the other side of the frontline, we still have to reconcile many people within our country to Ukraine.’ … Moreover, if the Donbas voters are excluded from Ukraine’s political life, they may grow all the more alienated.
  • “For the moment, President Zelenskiy continues his cautious push for reintegration. … If Zelenskiy holds to his current course, Ukrainian society could be forced in the near future to conclusively decide the fundamental political question at the country’s ragged eastern edge: Put off reunification indefinitely and focus on reforming the core, or push on to reintegration while something common still remains?”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Questioning Sinophobia in Central Asia,’ Eric McGlinchey, PONARS Eurasia, December 2019The author, an associate professor at George Mason University, writes:

  • “Central Asians are confident in their assessments of the great power to the north. Only 16 percent of all Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks and Uzbeks surveyed in Gallup’s 2006-2018 annual World Polls punted on the question: “Do you approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of Russia.” Most Central Asians—78 percent—approve of the Russian leadership … China, despite the fact that it shares a border with three of the five Central Asian states, elicits uncertainty.”
  • “Once inextricably linked to Russia, Central Asia today has reoriented its economies toward China. … Along with these gains, however, have come concerns that Central Asian governments are becoming too dependent on Beijing. China holds 45 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s external debt, 40 percent of Tajikistan’s external debt and 21 percent of Uzbekistan’s external debt.”
  • “Central Asian elites’ dependency on and corrupt use of Chinese development loans constitute only one potential driver of anti-Chinese sentiment in the region. Central Asia, like much of the world, has seen growing populism over the past five years and China has increasingly become the target of rising ethno-nationalism across the region. … China’s recent attempts at “reeducating” these Kazakh and Kyrgyz Muslim minorities, along with the millions of Uighurs who also live in Xinjiang, has led to a spike in anti-Chinese protests in Central Asia.”
  • “While some Central Asians are worried about their co-nationals in northwest China, others are worried about their countrywomen at home.”
  • “China’s efforts to reach Central Asian youth by providing educational opportunities and its efforts more broadly to increase its soft power throughout the region are in their early days. … It may yet be some time before the Chinese leadership receives in Central Asia the same approval ratings that the Russian government does. Nevertheless, Central Asians are open to China and willing partners for Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road.”

“Belarus May Be Key to Solving NATO’s Problems with Russia,” Vitali Shkliarov, Foreign Policy, 12.03.19The author, a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Davis Center, writes:

  • “Over the last few years, Russia and NATO have been caught in something of a security trap, where neither trusts the other’s intentions and thus tries to build up more military power to deter its rival. Although both think of their actions as defensive, their enemy sees pure aggression—and the cycle dangerously repeats.”
  • “It will be difficult to reverse Eastern Europe’s security dilemma. Doing so would require the Western countries and Russia sitting down together and striking a grand bargain on numerous issues such as sanctions, an arms control framework and Ukraine, which currently appear unresolvable. A more realistic solution would be to find ways to make the twists and turns of Eastern European security more predictable. And here, Belarus is key.”
  • “Belarus remains a Russian ally, of course, and in a military conflict, it would side with Moscow. But it is also ready to do everything possible to prevent such a war from starting and alleviate regional tensions.”
  • “Most importantly, Belarus has a unique network of bilateral, military-to-military agreements with its neighbors. It has agreements with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland (all NATO members) for regional confidence and security-building measures. With Ukraine, Minsk has an even stronger agreement on security cooperation.”
  • “On the basis of these documents, Belarus could serve as a geographic cushion between NATO and Russia, protecting the two against miscalculation.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“How 10,000 Little Putins Rule Russia,” Andrei Kolesnikov, The Moscow Times, 12.03.19The author, a senior fellow and the chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Countless ‘little Putins’ try to guess how the ‘big Putin’ in the Kremlin would behave in their place—adding their own mix of stupidity and cruelty into the brew—producing a toxic mix of injustice and inhumanity. This has recreated the atmosphere of the 1940s—now transposed into Russia’s authoritarian state capitalism.”
  • “Sometimes the regime requires more than simple obedience—and when it does, people feel it like some sort of sixth sense. When that happens, conformism becomes active and aggressive and is elevated to the level of principle and virtue. What the authorities so eloquently call an ‘active citizen’ should, in fact, be called an ‘aggressive conformist.’ This combination of aggressive conformism and petty indifference is the basis of the regime’s popular support.”
  • “With the coming of democracy and the free market, people abandoned their duties as citizens and assumed the self-absorbed role of consumers. The ruling regime that began taking shape in 2000 has thrived on this change. The result: democracy is gone and the market has constricted substantially. 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.”

“Who Will Follow Putin? There is no credible successor to Vladimir Putin,” Konstantin Remchukov, The National Interest, 12.04.19The author, proprietor and editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, writes:

  • “Russian president Vladimir Putin confronts a big dilemma that is not entirely of his own making. Putin cannot find a replacement for himself—a political clone, as he understands it. Among other things, a reliable successor would need to be modest, restrained in statements, loyal to the nomenklatura, liberal in everyday life, patriotic in public, flexible in international negotiations, able to balance between the extremes of his comrades-in-arms and, most importantly, indefatigable and forbearing, obsessed with work, meetings, flights, negotiations.”
  • “In my view, the true state of the upper echelon of the elite will be predetermined by the arrival of new persons from … lower levels of power to lead the country after Putin. And this, considering that the circle of trust is very small within the Russian society, implies, for better or worse, an automatic and radical change of the elite who make key decisions in the government.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.