Russia Analytical Report, Feb. 3-10, 2020

This Week’s Highlights

  • Kevin Blachford of the Baltic Defense College argues in the National Interest that the lack of German commitment and Brussel’s interest in the region is effecting NATO’s ability to defend the Baltics. According to a new Pew Research Center survey cited by FT, 66 percent of respondents in Italy and 53 percent of respondents in France believe their country should not defend a fellow NATO ally against a potential attack from Russia.
  • Madeleine Albright and Igor Ivanov plead with Donald Trump to extend New START on the New York Times’ editorial pages, while Michael Krepon argues in Arms Control Wonk that the future of nuclear arms control lies in compliance with norms rather than restricting numbers. The three most important norms are no use of nuclear weapons in warfare, no nuclear testing and no further proliferation, according to Krepon.
  • A U.S. poll commissioned by Henry Hale and Olga Kamenchuk reveals that 22 percent of Americans generally agree with Vladimir Putin on world affairs more than they disagree, and 41 percent think he is at least a pretty good leader for Russia. The latter figure reaches a rather stunning 68 percent in red states, according to the 2019 poll. Moreover, reminding people about Russian election interference costs neither congressional Republicans nor Trump any votes, according to the poll. In comparison, 7 percent of Russians polled for Hale’s and Kamenchuk’s study last year tend to support Trump's pronouncements on world affairs, and only 1 percent fully agree with them. At the same time 51 percent of Russian respondents think Trump is at least a moderately good leader for his country.
  • In Foreign Affairs, Jeffrey Mankoff points to Germany’s resilience in the face of Russian influence operations, attributing it to dominance of mainstream media outlets and lower levels of Germans’ exposure to social media.
  • Dmitry Adamsky writes for PONARS Eurasia that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) made three major contributions to Russia’s military intervention in Syria: First, it delivered a messianic raison d’être for the leaders contemplating the campaign. The second ecclesiastical contribution was a legitimization of the Kremlin’s policy at home and abroad. Third, during the campaign, the ROC assisted military commanders in providing a sense of purpose and mission to the servicemen.
  • Michael Kofman writes in War on the Rocks that the prospective decline of Russia’s population is not only overstated but is also unlikely to substantially constrain Russian power or make the country less of a problem for the U.S. Such notions are not only based on bad information, he warns, but they have also become an alibi for the absence of U.S. strategy on what to do about Russia.

NB: Next week’s Russia Analytical Report will appear on Tuesday, Feb. 18, instead of Monday, Feb. 17, because of the U.S. Presidents' Day holiday.


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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant developments

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments

Iran and its nuclear program:

“A Storm in January: Implications of the Recent US-Iran Crisis for the Global Order,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 02.04.20The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “In the last five years, Russia has become a very visible player in the Middle East, but its success is due less to its resource base and more to its focus on its own specific interests, its inside knowledge of the region and its skill in manipulating relatively few resources and means. Russia has also found a way of maintaining relations with all the key players while avoiding both the dependency of an alliance with some, and outright hostility with others.”
  • “Overall, however, the recent U.S.-Iran war alert has shown that the role and importance of all of the great powers in the international system is shrinking. This is happening as a result of regional players gaining military capabilities that previously only the main players had; a sharp decrease in the tolerance of the world powers for sustaining human losses; the decreased appeal of many countries as objects of economic interests or a strategic foothold; and the universal and growing trend for prioritizing domestic affairs … over foreign policy.”
  • “Throughout and after the Cold War, the Middle East was a textbook example … of geopolitical rivalry between the leading world powers. Today, the region demonstrates the shifting of that rivalry into other areas entirely … while the former geographic playgrounds of the big players are being taken over by local powers. As for the big players themselves, they are increasingly compelled to act according to the immediate demands of their domestic politics, rather than pursuing geopolitical grand strategies founded upon ideological values.”

Cold War/saber rattling:

“We’re Still Living in Stalin’s World,” Diana Preston, New York Times, 02.04.20The author of “Eight Days at Yalta: How Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin Shaped the Post-War World” writes:

  • “At the Yalta Conference 75 years ago, the Soviet leader got everything he wanted—and shaped global politics for decades. If you polled global security experts today about the parts of the world that keep them up at night, the top three would probably be Ukraine and Crimea, the Korean Peninsula and post-Brexit Western Europe. Coincidentally, the troubles facing all three can be traced back to a short conference.”
  • “Though the Soviet Union collapsed some 30 years ago, the division, and the flash points, remain. It’s no coincidence that the crux of the split between Russia and the West is over Crimea and parts of Ukraine, annexed by Vladimir Putin. Just as in 1945, Western leaders know they have few viable options beyond moral pressure on the occupying Russians. Stalin once said, ‘If you are afraid of wolves, keep out of the woods.’ Entering Putin’s woods seems no less problematic.”
  • “Many regard Yalta as a byword for compromise, even betrayal. … Yalta undoubtedly left the peoples of Eastern Europe in thrall to the Soviet Union for nearly half a century. But Western leaders had little leverage over Stalin, especially as the Soviet Union had a strong moral claim to its postwar bounty, having suffered by far the most during the war.”

NATO-Russia relations:

“Confidence in NATO in Sharp Decline,” Guy Chazan and Michael Peel, Financial Times, 02.09.20The authors, the Berlin bureau chief and a correspondent for the news outlet, write:

  • “A new survey by the Pew Research Center found that a median of 53 percent across 16 member countries surveyed had a favorable view of NATO, with only 27 percent expressing a negative view. But between 2017 and 2019, the proportion of people who had a positive view of the alliance had fallen from 62 to 52 percent in the U.S., 60 to 49 percent in France and 67 to 57 percent in Germany. In the U.K., where NATO has assumed even greater importance as a result of Brexit, the opposite trend was at work, with favorable views of NATO rising from 62 to 65 percent.”
  • “When asked if their country should defend a fellow NATO ally against a potential attack from Russia, a median of 50 percent across 16 NATO member states said it should not. Only 38 percent said it should. This reluctance was particularly striking in Italy, where 66 percent of respondents said Italy should not use military force to defend a country involved in a serious military conflict with Russia. In Germany the proportion was 60 percent, and in France 53 percent. In only five of the 16 member states surveyed—the Netherlands, the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Lithuania—did half or more say that their countries should use force in the event of a Russian attack on a fellow NATO member.”

“Can NATO and the EU Really Defend the Baltic States Against Russia?” Kevin Blachford, The National Interest, 02.07.20The author, a lecturer of international relations at the Baltic Defense College, Estonia, writes:

  • “The Defender Exercise 2020 will be one of the biggest military exercises since the end of the Cold War. The exercise will take place in May and June of this year and will occur across … Germany, Poland and the Baltic States. Despite President Trump’s outspoken criticism of European allies, it will also be one of the largest deployments of U.S. troops to Europe in twenty-five years. The intention of the exercise is to demonstrate U.S. resolve to defend its allies and to show the deterrent ability of NATO.”
  • “Today, the Baltic region lacks any meaningful infrastructure in which reinforcements could be moved quickly to the region. … The Baltic states also do not have any significant capabilities to host allied forces in large scale numbers, particularly as access to the area in a conflict scenario would be limited due to Russian air superiority and anti-access, area-denial capabilities.”
  • “The lack of infrastructure across the Baltic region, therefore, creates two main problems. Firstly, it limits NATO’s credibility to respond to a crisis on the border with Russia. Secondly, infrastructure serves a dual purpose in both war and peacetime. The lack of European investment and interest in the region creates opportunities for Russia to undermine the societies of the three Baltic nations.”
  • “The European Union needs to do more to show its commitment to the East. Continual expansion eastwards has not had the de-securitizing effect once expected. The lack of German commitment and Brussel’s interest in the region is also effecting NATO’s ability to defend the Baltics.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments

Nuclear arms control:

“Where Are We? And Where Do We Go From Here?” Michael Krepon, Arms Control Wonk, 02.09.20The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes:

  • “We worry about arms racing, but we overuse the term. There is a constituency for strategic modernization in the United States, but not for arms racing. Russia cannot afford an arms race and if it prompts one, it will lose.”
  • “Technological developments with respect to nuclear forces are less than meet the eye. The latest bright shiny object—hypervelocity/glide weapons—aren’t all that great and in some respects are less capable than old-fashioned ballistic missiles. They are niche weapons.”
  • “The basic technologies associated with nuclear weapons are six decades old. These systems cost much and have had no demonstrable military utility since 1945. The methods of warfare of greatest consequence at present are hybrid in nature. Other methods of potential warfare that also demand our attention may not even be kinetic, let alone nuclear, in nature. I’m referring, of course, to space and cyber warfare.”
  • “The best antidotes to space and cyber warfare are not treaties or bans; they are codes of conduct. The one exception here may be a ban of limited scope on kinetic energy anti-satellite tests. … In the past, we’ve relied heavily on numbers embedded in treaties for nuclear arms control and reductions. It’s important to keep or retrieve as many useful numbers as we can, and then to reduce them. Looking forward, I anticipate a shift in the form of greater reliance on norms than on numbers.”
  • “The three most important norms are no use of nuclear weapons in warfare, no nuclear testing and no further proliferation. If we focus on and protect these three crucial norms, we will progressively reduce nuclear dangers and weapons—whether or not there are new treaties codifying lower numbers.”

“Save the New START Arms Treaty,” Madeleine Albright and Igor Ivanov, New York Times, 02.10.20The authors, a former U.S. secretary of state and a former Russian foreign minister, write:

  • “The two countries have a chance to head off even more instability by extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in one year, on Feb. 5. … With the unfortunate dissolution of the [INF] Treaty last year, New START is the only agreement still in place that limits the size of American and Russian nuclear forces. It also provides vital verification and transparency measures … that have helped foster strategic stability.”
  • “[W]e and 24 other former foreign ministers are now issuing a statement calling upon leaders of all countries to counter the uncertainties posed by nuclear weapons more urgently. … Extending New START would send a signal to the rest of the world as other countries consider their responsibilities to help halt the spread of nuclear weapons. It could also lay the foundation for increased international cooperation in the next decade.”
  • “The recent escalation of attacks between the United States and Iran demonstrated how quickly the lack of guardrails can move us to the brink of war. … The dangers of miscalculation are too grave for leaders to resort to ambiguous communication, threats and military action.”
  • “Right now, the most important thing to do is extend New START. Russia has indicated, at the highest levels, its willingness to do so. All that President Trump needs to do is agree. … Time is critical. Doing nothing while waiting for a 'better' agreement is a recipe for disaster: We could lose New START and fail to replace it. The treaty's agreed limits on nuclear arsenals are too important to be put at risk in a game of nuclear chicken. Moreover, we have an opportunity to improve security and rebuild trust between the world's two great nuclear powers. It must not be thrown away.”

“Countdown Begins for No-Brainer: Extend New START Treaty,” Matt Korda and Hans M. Kristensen, Federation of American Scientists, 02.05.20The authors, a research associate for and the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, write:

  • “[O]n Feb. 5, 2021, the New START treaty will expire, unless the United States and Russia act to extend the last nuclear arms control agreement for an additional five years. No matter your political orientation, treaty extension is a no-brainer—for at least six primary reasons.”
  • “New START keeps nuclear arsenals in check. … New START force level is the basis for current nuclear infrastructure plans. … New START offers transparency and predictability in an unstable world. … New START has overwhelming bipartisan support––even among Trump voters. … We won’t get another chance. If New START expires next year, arms control between Russia and the United States as we know it is effectively over. … It’s easy. Extension of New START doesn’t require Congressional legislation or Senate ratification.”


  • No significant developments

Conflict in Syria:

“Russia and Turkey Have Fallen Out in Syria,” David Gardner, Financial Times, 02.04.20The author, international affairs editor for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Turkey’s campaign against the PKK and its Syrian Kurd allies dovetails with Mr. Erdogan’s ambition to return to former Ottoman territories many Turks believe European powers helped steal from them after the first World War.”
  • “Mr. Erdogan started reviving … past claims on adjoining territory from Aleppo in Syria to Mosul in Iraq. … This is not just neo-Ottoman irredentism. It also stems from a conviction that Turkey needs strategic depth, especially against the Kurdish separatism lapping at its frontiers.”
  • “Russian aims seem simpler. Mr. Putin used Syria as a springboard to reassert Russia’s credentials as a superpower. As part of this, he wants the Assad regime back in control of the whole of the country. That is why, ultimately, Moscow and Ankara are on a collision course. Turkey’s presence in north-west Syria depends on Russia. But its putative buffer in the north-east has pushed the Syrian Kurds into the arms of the Assads—to the benefit of Russia and Iran.””
  • “Russia and Turkey are also on opposite sides of Libya’s civil war and Mr. Erdogan has pretty much burnt Turkey’s bridges with the U.S. and EU. Ankara may have bitten off more than it can chew.”

“Putin Discovers the Pain of Being Erdogan’s Pal,” Bobby Ghosh, Bloomberg/The Moscow Times, 02.07.20The author, a columnist and member of the editorial board at Bloomberg Opinion, writes:

  • “Just as Erdogan has thumbed his nose at Washington … Erdogan has now cocked a snook at Moscow with the incantation, ‘Slava, Ukraine!’ at his recent visit to Kyiv. ‘Glory to Ukraine’ has become a slogan of resistance to Russian hegemony since Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Moscow and its mouthpieces claim it is a Nazi chant.”
  • “The Russians are discovering, as Americans and Europeans have before, that with Erdogan, matters are always coming to a head, accompanied with threats to end alliances. Putin now finds himself at the receiving end. In a recent phone call, Erdogan warned that Turkey would react ‘in the harshest way’ if Turkish troops in Syria came under more attacks from Assad’s forces. And of course, he has warned that the Russo-Turkish relationship could split over Syria.”
  • “Putin’s options with Erdogan are limited. Turkey is potentially a major economic partner for Russia … Turkey’s membership is crucial to Russia’s hopes of sustaining multilateral organizations in the Caucasus and Central Asia. And of course, Putin wants to stoke NATO’s uncertainty over Turkey’s commitment to the alliance.”
  • “Erdogan knows all of this. If his dealings with the U.S. and Europe are any guide, he will keep pushing Russia for concessions, in Syria and Libya … For now, though, American officials can quietly revel in Putin’s discovery of what it means to be Erdogan’s friend.”

“Turkey’s Intervention in Syria Will Slow Assad, But It Won’t Stop Him,” Kareem Shaheen, Foreign Policy, 02.07.20The author, a journalist and columnist based in Montreal, writes:

  • “In the short term, Turkey’s involvement may place a temporary hold on the slaughter going on in Idlib. … Hundreds of billions of dollars of reconstruction aid are unlikely to begin flowing into Syria without at least the veneer of progress on questions of political reform. … Without some measure of justice, with the tyrant still on the throne, no long-term peace will be tenable, no matter how many Russian missiles or barrel bombs rain from the sky.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments

Elections interference:

“Russian Influence Operations in Germany and Their Effect,” Jeffrey Mankoff, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 02.03.20The author, deputy director and senior fellow at CSIS’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “Germany maintains a different relationship with Russia than its European counterparts: it has deep ties to Russia compared to its neighbors to the west, and the fear of Russia that pervades much of Central and Eastern Europe is absent from German debates due to Germany’s relative strength. Russia itself also regards Germany as more of a partner than a target for domination.”
  • “As Europe’s unquestioned heavyweight and a country with deep political, economic and cultural ties to Russia, Germany has been a frequent target of Russian information operations. … Overall, the effects of Russian information and influence operations appear less pronounced in Germany than in many other states, including the United States. … Observers suggest a couple of explanations for Germany’s seeming resilience in the face of Russian influence operations.”
  • “The dominance of mainstream media outlets, especially the state-run television networks ARD and ZTF, seems especially important. … Social media exposure, conversely, seems lower than in many other states: the percentage of Americans on Twitter is double the percentage of Germans.”
  • “German observers suggest that Russian disinformation in particular appears to have subsided since the 2017 election. … Whether this shift in Russian tactics is the result of successful deterrence on Germany’s part or a changing geopolitical landscape, most Germans do not seem to view Russian influence operations—particularly disinformation—as a significant threat.”
  • “Despite tensions over Ukraine, migration and other topics, many German officials, businesspeople and others recognize that some degree of Russian influence is a price Berlin must pay to fulfill its economic ambitions and aspirations for stability at the heart of Europe.”

“Foreign Interference in Elections Is Unacceptable. Congress Must Make It Illegal,” Jeffrey H. Smith and John B. Bellinger III, The Washington Post, 02.09.20The authors, former general counsel of the CIA and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, write:

  • “Congress should promptly adopt a criminal statute prohibiting any candidate for federal office, including the president, from soliciting or knowingly accepting material assistance from a foreign power that could influence an election.”
  • “[I]n October 1992, James A. Baker III … rejected a request to the president by several members of Congress to seek the help of Russia and Britain to dig up dirt on Democratic candidate Bill Clinton. Baker told the congressmen ‘we absolutely could not do that’ and wrote a memorandum for the record. Baker didn't need a statute to know what was right and what was wrong.”
  • “The country can't rely on all government officials to possess that sort of integrity, so Congress must act now. Congressional Republicans have been willing to impose sanctions on Russia for interfering in the 2016 election, and, more recently, some have voted to limit the president's authority to start a conflict with Iran. We hope that Republicans—even if they voted against impeachment or conviction of the president—will similarly understand why a carefully crafted statute prohibiting solicitation or knowing acceptance of foreign interference in U.S. elections is necessary, and that the president will sign it into law.”

Energy exports:

“The Threats to Energy Security Have Changed,” Nick Butler, Financial Times, 02.10.20The author, visiting professor and chair of the Kings Policy Institute at Kings College London, writes:

  • “Despite plentiful supplies of fuel and low prices, energy security is a global concern. The fear 30 or 40 years ago was that supplies would be cut off by OPEC or Russia, but that has changed. Now, the focus is on the impact of low prices on social and political stability, China’s growing dependence on imports and the longer-term threat of climate change.”
  • “The oil price is now just over half that of six years ago—it has fallen as much as 20 percent since the turn of the year … the loss of revenue for oil-producing countries comes on top of other problems in the region.”
  • “For Beijing, energy security is now a real concern and it was noticeable that in the midst of events in the Middle East after the killing last month of Iran’s top military commander Qassem Soleimani, China offered assistance to Iraq. Any disruption to flows of oil through the Strait of Hormuz would hurt China far more than any Western economy because of its heavy dependence on Gulf states for crude.”
  • “[T]here is the longer-term challenge of climate change. A worldwide deal capable of securing the reduction in emissions needed to keep global warming below 2 degrees, or the more ambitious 1.5, is hardly within reach.”
  • “None of the challenges set out above match the traditional security agenda. They cannot be dealt with by theories of deterrence or the threat or use of military force. They redefine the meaning of security. In each case, the best answers lie in international agreement leading to collective precautionary action. But international agreement is the scarcest commodity of all.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Why Are Republicans Using Putin's Talking Points? This Study Helps Explain,” Henry Hale and Olga Kamenchuk, The Washington Post, 02.04.20The authors, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and a co-director of the Mershon Center for International Security's Eurasian security and governance program at Ohio State University, write:

  • “Putin enjoys a better reputation in the United States than often realized—disproportionately among Republicans. … Our study found that a significant minority of Republicans now agree with Putin on world affairs, and a sizable majority appear to admire him—but that Putin's supporters in Russia don't admire Trump in return.”
  • “[F]rom July 22-25 we asked representative samples of the U.S. and Russian populations, with 1,600 people in each … through the pollsters YouGov in the United States and VCIOM in Russia … Overall … we found that 22 percent of Americans generally agreed with Putin on world affairs more than they disagreed, and 41 percent thought he was at least a pretty good leader for Russia. Those are high numbers for a foreign leader whom mainstream media outlets widely characterize as an enemy or a rival.”
  • “Putin's approval is even higher within the GOP. A full third of Republicans (33 percent) express broad agreement with the Russian leader on international relations, and 60 percent think he is overall a good leader for Russia. The latter figure reaches a rather stunning 68 percent in red states.”
  • “If anything, our study indicates that congressional Republicans and Trump gain about two percentage points when voters have the Russian election interference issue in mind, though this change falls within the margin of error.
  • “So what do Russians think about Trump? The answer is mixed. Just 7 percent of Russians ‘tend to’ support Trump's pronouncements on world affairs, and only 1 percent fully agree with them. At the same time, a majority (51 percent) think Trump is at least a moderately good leader for his country. But most of these 51 percent are not Putin voters.”

“Digital Authoritarianism: Finding Our Way Out of the Darkness,” Naazneen Barma, Brent Durbin, and Andrea Kendall-Taylor, War on the Rocks, 02.10.20The authors, an associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, an associate professor of government at Smith College and director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, write:

  • “From Chinese government surveillance in Hong Kong and Xinjiang to Russia’s sovereign internet law and concerns about foreign operatives hacking the 2020 elections, digital technologies are changing global politics—and the United States is not ready to compete.”
  • “Authoritarians are using technology to deepen their grip internally, spread propaganda, undermine basic human rights, promote illiberal practices beyond their borders and erode public trust in open societies. Today, Russia continues its campaign of cyber and information attacks against democratic institutions and social cohesion in the United States and Europe. Iran and North Korea are following suit.”
  • “Over the longer term, the United States will need to work with allies and partners to develop global standards for the use of surveillance and other potentially illiberal technologies. Establishing an overarching framework—akin to the arms control regime—that creates restrictions on the proliferation and use of new technologies would further enhance the resilience of democracy in the face of technological change. Such an agreement might also include provisions to sanction those who attempt to use digital technologies to disrupt democratic processes abroad, as the United States did following Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential and 2018 midterm elections.”
  • “We also need a clearer idea of how U.S.-based companies are contributing to the abuses of digital autocracies around the world. The United States is losing ground in the race to leverage digital technologies to promote its national interests and values around the world. To meet this challenge, we need to understand it better.”

“What the Iowa Caucus Means for Russia,” Maggie Tennis, Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), 02.10.20The author, a graduate student at Princeotn University, writes:

  • “Russia’s motivations are somewhat less passionate [than four years ago]. Putin simply does not hate any candidate the way he hated Hillary [Clinton]. His man is the incumbent. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party’s campaign season has failed to produce a compelling alternative.”
  • “Despite waging elections interference in support of Sanders, Moscow never favored a Sanders presidency over a Trump one. Unlike Trump, Sanders has called Putin an ‘anti-democratic authoritarian’ and supports policies that are punitive for Russia, such as sanctions, freezing assets and corporate divestiture.”
  • “For the Kremlin, Buttigieg is an untried and untested challenger. Mayors of small midwestern cities do not feature much in Russia’s purview. … Ultimately, Buttigieg is a moderate, and moderate Democrats tend to be tough on Russia.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russian Demographics and Power: Does the Kremlin Have a Long Game?” Michael Kofman, War on the Rocks, 02.04.20The author, director and senior research scientist at CNA Corporation and a fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, writes:

  • “One of the oft-voiced constraints on the longevity, or perhaps durability, of Russian power is that of its demographic decline. If there is a mainstay of wisdom in Washington, it is that Russia’s underperforming economy, and a terrible demographic outlook, mean that Russia doesn’t have a ‘long game.’”
  • “These statements are based on questionable, or dated information, playing with statistics to paint a picture more dire than exists. … The prospective decline of Russia’s population is not only overstated but is also unlikely to substantially constrain Russian power or make the country less of a problem for the United States. Such notions are not only based on bad information, they have also become an alibi for the absence of U.S. strategy on what to do about Russia.”
  • “The conversation on demographics can tend towards the simplistic, focusing on population size rather than the qualitative dimensions that make up human capital … Population matters less for military power. Wars are no longer fought by mass mobilization armies; instead, technology has multiplied destructive power such that the soldier is increasingly alone on the battlefield. … Much of the conversation on Russia’s demographic prospects also misses an important fact: Russia, like the United States, maintains its population in part through migration.”
  • “The core Russian problem is … the fact that the economy and the political system are unable to tap into the talent and human potential of that country. Russia has the requisite attributes to be far more powerful and influential than it is today, with fewer people.”
  • “Russia’s comparative weakness should not be confused for an inability to play an important role in European affairs, or check U.S. foreign policy abroad. Russia does have a long game, but it is not clear that Washington has a long game for dealing with Russian power in the world.”

“Why Putin's Plan for Russia Will Work,” Konstantin Remchukov, The National Interest, 02.06.20The author, the proprietor and editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, writes:

  • “Russian President Vladimir Putin has attracted much attention for proposing changes to the constitution … what he is proposing is really an enormous institutional and constitutional restructuring of Russian branches of power. … And although Putin may appear to be solely pursuing his own goal of personal security, he will also eventually create a more democratic country.” 
  • “History suggests that Putin’s actions are not a complete anomaly in Russia. If we apply the term ‘Tsar’ to all Russian leaders, then we must recognize that Nicholas II stepped down from his throne in 1917 by himself (although under strong pressure) and that Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin also yielded their powers willingly.”
  • “Russians need higher stakes—a universal mission. Our internal political discourse is therefore often deeply flawed. …. [M]ost Russians feel privileged to be treated as a spiritual nation at the expense of rationality. It is notable that Putin has never promised anything specific during his election campaigns.”
  • “Putin’s attempt to realign constitutionally important institutions of power does represent a positive step for modern Russia. … In shaping Russian domestic and foreign policy, he tends to ignore institutional approaches. But when it comes to his and his friends’ abstention from power, he seems to have arrived at the belief that they can only rely on the safety provided by an institutional framework.”
  • “After Putin has left the political stage, Russia’s important institutions will have much more dignity and ambition. … The only way to demolish Putin’s proposed new constitutional power structure would be through a revolution, a path that has seldom proved beneficial for Russia. … The paradox of our age is that an authoritarian leader, at least in Russia, is able to establish a viable system of government that relies on checks and balances. This is something that a liberal leader under similar circumstances could not do.”

“Dictators in Trouble. Democracy Isn’t the Only System Under Stress,” Thomas Carothers, Foreign Affairs, 02.06.20The author, senior vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes:

  • “All this attention on the decline of democracy has obscured a story that is just as important: many authoritarians, dictators and other nondemocratic leaders are also in trouble. Just like their peers in free countries, many citizens in nondemocracies are deeply frustrated with their political systems and have in the last several years been acting on that unhappiness by challenging those in power. The central political dynamic of the current moment is thus not the gradual eclipsing of democracy by authoritarianism. It is, rather, the growing difficulty of political elites in all types of regimes to satisfy the demands of their citizens.”
  • “In numerous other nondemocratic countries, including Haiti, Jordan, Nicaragua, Russia, Togo and Venezuela, significant protests have shaken power holders even if they have not ejected them.”
  • “All political systems are in for a hard road ahead as people everywhere continue to know more, want more and do more. In the face of rising popular pressure for answers and results, it’s hard to maintain democracy. But it is equally hard—and maybe harder—to maintain autocratic rule. The instinctive approach of most democratic governments to make partial concessions and engage in negotiations with angry citizens often leads to muddled politics and stalled reforms. Yet compared with the authoritarian instinct to crush dissent and stonewall change, the messy conciliation of democracy is more likely to allow a government to survive and even renovate itself.”

Defense and aerospace:

“The Role of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow’s Syrian Campaign,” Dmitry Adamsky, PONARS Eurasia, February 2020: The author, a professor in the School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya, Israel, writes:

  • "The role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in Russian national identity, ideology and politics has grown immensely during the last decades. ... Moscow’s diplomatic-military enterprise in Syria has been significantly touched by faith and Church. ... The ROC has contributed to Russian foreign and security policy on earlier occasions, but the Syrian case has been the culmination of this bond."
  • "Portraying the ROC as the Kremlin’s obedient servant subordinated to its will, or speaking about a symphony of equals, where in return for privileges, the ROC delivers ideological support to the Kremlin, would be an oversimplification. The partnership is a 'competitive model,' where areas of convergence coexist with tensions."
  • "During the Syrian campaign, the ROC provided the Kremlin with three deliverables. First, it delivered a messianic raison d’être for the leaders contemplating the campaign. … The second ecclesiastical contribution was a legitimization of the Kremlin’s policy at home and abroad. ... Finally, during the campaign, the ROC, and in particular the Russian military clergy ... assisted military commanders in providing a sense of purpose and mission to the servicemen."
  • "Apparently, the above deliverables provided by the ROC to the Kremlin during Moscow’s diplomatic-military enterprise in Syria—a sense of mission, international and domestic legitimacy and enhancement of combat effectiveness—will not be unique to the Syrian campaign."

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“An Alternate European Path: How Brexit Will Benefit a Democratic Russia,” Alexander Baunov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 02.06.20The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center and editor in chief of, writes:

  • “While broadly perceived as a blow to the EU and its values, Brexit will actually benefit a future democratic Russia. Britain’s exit will create a new model of Europeanness, in which a country can strive to achieve European standards without EU membership. That is a niche Russia can fill.”
  • “Of course, the UK remains a NATO member and treats Russia as being outside Europe more than almost any other European power. But the very existence of an alternate model of Europeanness gives Russia and other countries like it a new space in Europe.”
  • “Post-Brexit Europe will not be a place where ‘backwards’ Eastern European countries act as an alternative to the EU. Instead, the UK—which voluntarily chose to leave the EU and independently develop its strong political, legal and economic culture—is the alternative. Russia and other countries with few prospects of joining the EU (for example, Turkey and even Ukraine) are no longer doomed to wait at the EU’s gates. They now find themselves in a new version of Europe, where striving for European standards doesn’t automatically imply EU membership.”

“Europe’s Post-Brexit Future Is Looking Scary.” Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, 02.06.20The author, the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University, writes:

  • “The full ramifications [of Brexit] won’t be known for some time, but the EU slogan of ‘ever-deeper union’ clearly took a hit on Jan. 31. … I fear the problems Europe is facing go far beyond Britain’s decision to leave and raise serious questions about Europe’s future role in world politics. They also cast further doubts about the future of trans-Atlantic relations.”
  • “The problem is inherently structural: Apart from trade negotiations, where the EU generally speaks with one voice, the bloc is neither designed for nor capable of producing a united policy on major strategic questions and backing that policy up with the requisite capabilities.”
  • “French President Emmanuel Macron is increasingly worried about China, and he seems to want to mend fences with Moscow to wean it away from Beijing. This is sound geopolitics from France’s perspective but anathema to Poland and some nations in Eastern Europe. How can Europe have a ‘common foreign and security policy’ when it can’t even agree on its approach to a strategically important neighbor?”
  • “Alas, Europe’s problems are bigger than just these conflicts of interest. Europe is also facing a long-term demographic crisis, the full impact of which is still not fully appreciated. It is now the world’s oldest continent, with a median age close to 45, and its working-age population is projected to decline by some 50 million people by 2035. … [O]ne solution … would be to encourage greater immigration from abroad. But as the 2015 refugee crisis suggests, bringing in even small numbers of immigrants can have unpredictable political consequences.”
  • “The core problem, however, is that Europe thought it could transcend power politics, build a thriving liberal society and get away without an independent European approach to world affairs.”

“Russia and Poland Use Differing Versions of World War II History for Domestic Ends,” Leonid Ragozin, The Washington Post, 02.03.20The author, a freelance journalist based in Latvia, writes:

  • “There is no true equivalence between Russia's deeply embedded authoritarianism and Polish illiberalism, of course, but liberal Poles have long feared that the country could be moving in Russia's authoritarian direction. The Communist-era Polish dissident Adam Michnik said back in 2009 that instead of a full-blown version of Putinism, other post-Communist countries, including his own, were nurturing a softer version of the same political arrangement. He called it ‘Liliputinism.’ Whenever Putin needs to mobilize Russians around a patriotic cause, the help from East European ‘Liliputins’ is indispensable. It works the other way, too.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • No significant developments


“Zelenskiy Wants to Break Oligarchs' Grip on Ukraine. But At Least One Was Once a Pal,” Robyn Dixon, David L. Stern and Natalie Gryvnyak, The Washington Post, 02.10.20The journalists write:

  • “When a dozen plainclothes intelligence agents raided the headquarters of Ukrainian television network 1+1 on Feb. 5, searching offices and carting away computers, they could barely move amid the crush of journalists filming them. … One interpretation was that Zelenskiy, a former TV comedian, was cracking down on Ihor Kolomoisky, an influential mogul who controls 1+1 and has close ties to the president. Or was it just another dust-up in Ukraine's power struggles between elected officials and powerful oligarchs?”
  • “If Zelenskiy fails to rein in the oligarchs and rampant judicial corruption, his reforms will sputter and Ukraine will lose its best chance in decades to escape Russia's influence and emerge as a pro-Europe Western-leaning democracy, analysts say. … The nation's economy is dominated by a small group of squabbling billionaire oligarchs—who also control almost all major media. They have the power to damage, even ruin, a political leader who attempts to unravel their influence.”
  • “But already, anti-corruption activists and Western financial analysts fear that Zelenskiy is shaping up to be like his predecessors, with promised reforms stalling. … Timothy Ash, a Ukraine specialist … says it appears Zelenskiy will not move to rein in favored oligarchs.”
  • “Former central banker Valeria Gontareva made an enemy of Kolomoisky in 2016, when the bank nationalized Privatbank … after $5.5 billion in deposits disappeared, risking a national economic crisis. Kolomoisky has denied wrongdoing. … The International Monetary Fund sees the case as a litmus test on Zelenskiy's presidency. If Kolomoisky did regain the bank, ‘the message would be that nothing has changed, and oligarchs still run the show … I think there would be no foreign direct investment into Ukraine, which means subpar growth would continue, as it has for the past 30 years,’ Ash said.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Will Belarus Be the Next Ukraine? Why the Brewing Conflict Between Moscow and Minsk Is Bad News,” Jeffrey Mankoff, Foreign Affairs, 02.05.20The author, deputy director and senior fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), writes:

  • “Belarus owes its stability in part to a closeness with Russia that it has never strongly resisted. But the equilibrium of that relationship has begun to change … Last year, … Putin began pushing to revive … the 1999 Union Treaty … Some Kremlin officials have even implied that they would pursue political integration with Belarus … steps that would effectively set the two states on a path toward unification. For added emphasis, Russia has threatened to stop furnishing its neighbor with cheap oil.”
  • “Belarus, however, has offered no indication that it shares Russia’s enthusiasm for integration, and talks on the matter in December ended in failure. If Russia persists … its attempt to pull Belarus in may end up pushing it away. … Premature moves on the part of Russia to further subordinate its neighbor could destabilize Belarus and exacerbate the already tense standoff between Russia and the West.”
  • “If Moscow follows through on its threat to end subsidized oil deliveries, Lukashenko may have to scrap parts of the welfare state that have helped reconcile many Belarusians to his autocratic rule. … And if Belarus’s younger generation, which is at once more national-minded and more cosmopolitan than older Belarusians, comes to threaten Lukashenko’s rule, Moscow could attempt to force a Faustian bargain on Lukashenko, trading his political survival for integration with Russia.”
  • “For the West, neither outcome would be desirable. Although the authoritarian Lukashenko has often been a nuisance, his ability to keep Russian influence at bay has been an underappreciated gift to regional stability. Moscow’s push for political, economic or military control over Belarus risks destabilizing that equilibrium.”

"Pompeo’s Visit Lets Post-Soviet States Leverage US Backing Against Russia, China, But Real Support Remains Limited," Nikolas Gvosdev, Russia Matters, 02.07.20: The author, a senior fellow at the Eurasia Program and Program on National Security of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), writes:

  • "It is only rational, after all, for smaller countries in the shadow of greater powers to seek to leverage American power and influence in order to improve their bargaining positions vis-a-vis Moscow and Beijing. No one embodies this process more than Belarus' long-serving president, Alexander Lukashenko."
  • "However, there is always a problem with how this plays out in reality due to the 'say-do' gap in American foreign policy—the chasm that looms between the rhetorical statements of support and what Washington is actually prepared to concretely deliver. After all, much of what Pompeo announced during his trip is a relaunch of initiatives that were proposed four years ago by the Obama administration ... There is also the tendency to take what are relatively modest measures ... and impute to them much more dramatic geopolitical consequences."
  • "Pompeo is faced with several additional factors that complicate his messaging. First and foremost, he cannot be said to be speaking with the voice of the president. ... All of Pompeo's pronouncements ... are one tweet away from being contradicted. ... Second, there is no longer a concerted, united Euro-Atlantic effort. ... Third, there is no particular groundswell of public support within the United States for making the Eurasian space the focal point of 'great power competition.'"
  • "Pompeo's visit allows the non-Russian states of the region to leverage a modest degree of American involvement to improve their bargaining positions against Moscow and Beijing. But no one should have any illusions about the degree of U.S. support. ... Lukashenko and Zelenskiy, however, hold out hope that the United States will do more to help them decrease their linkage to Russia. The Kremlin is also assessing Trump's signal that in an era of great power competition, the U.S. intends to vigorously contest for influence. What Pompeo's visit has not yet settled is how far the Trump team plans to compete in the eastern European borderlands between Russia and the West."