Russia Analytical Report, Jan. 28-Feb. 4, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • If the defining challenge of U.S. national interests in the 21st century is a rising China, then preventing a Sino-Russian entente should be a key U.S. priority, write Harvard professor Graham Allison and Center of the National Interest CEO and President Dimitri K. Simes. Former Kremlin advisor Sergei Karaganov notes that although there will be no formal alliance, for the foreseeable future, Russia and China will be very close.
  • The Cold War’s arms control framework is becoming obsolete, writes Carnegie’s Eugene Rumer. Instead of abandoning the INF Treaty, a Financial Times editorial argues, it would be better for the U.S. to increase pressure on Russia to comply with the treaty’s terms and challenge China to join. Congress can play a role, argues writes Rachel Bronson, president and chief executive of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, by finding ways to restart talks between the U.S. and Russia, including military-to-military ones focused on nuclear weapons.
  • Russia’s involvement in Venezula is largely influenced by Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft, writes Carnegie Moscow Center’s Alexander Gabuev. This suggests that Russia’s national security policymaking is increasingly driven by a combination of corporate interests and the ambitions of Putin’s inner circle. Russia’s investments in Venezuela run too deep for Russia to do anything there but double down, Gabuev argues.
  • Many Russians incorrectly believe that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is the only obstacle preventing Belarus from happily joining the Russian Federation, writes political correspondent Artyom Shraibman. In reality, Belarusians increasingly support the country’s independence, and if Putin wants to remain president after 2024, a better option would be to amend the Russian Constitution, not annex Belarus.
  • Chechnya’s territorial expansion, autonomous foreign relations and an independent military are all strikingly unusual attributes for a provincial subdivision of a larger state, and the only strong link between Chechnya and Russia is money, writes security analyst Neil Hauer.
  • Although it is once again being saddled with a “motor rifle lite” role, the Russian General Staff is still positioning the Russian Airborne Forcesas a high readiness reaction force, and an air mobile component that offers the Russian military new options at operational depths, writes Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist at CNA.

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

  • No significant developments.

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“Welcome to the New Age of Nuclear Instability,” Rachel Bronson, New York Times, 02.01.19The author, president and chief executive of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, writes:

  • “The turn away from arms control agreements is not happening in a vacuum. The National Nuclear Security Administration announced this week that it has begun production of a new low-yield nuclear weapon.”
  • “This is a perilous time in which agreements that have restrained the most dangerous weapons on the planet are dissipating and threatening new technologies … are advancing quickly. The likelihood of a nuclear accident or blunder seems to be growing by the day.”
  • “The good news is that the downward spiral can be stopped. Congress has an important role to play. … The Trump administration should also take up Russia’s offer to start negotiations about the extensions of the New START arms control agreement … Congress can [also] help find ways to restart talks between the United States and Russia, including military-to-military ones, focused narrowly on nuclear weapons. Such talks were common during the Cold War but are largely absent today.”
  • “All players … need to act like sensible grown-ups when it comes to nuclear security. The world has entered a dangerous new era of instability. The Trump administration’s actions, like building smaller-yield nuclear weapons and pulling out of arms control agreements, are only making it worse.”

“The INF Treaty Is Doomed. We Need a New Arms-Control Framework,” Eugene Rumer, Defense One, 01.25.19The author, director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “The fate of the INF Treaty is a wake-up call to arms controllers and strategists on both sides of the East-West divide. The arms control framework built during the Cold War is growing obsolete. It does not keep up with the rapid pace of technological change and the new geography of threats.”
  • “It can still perform a useful function and serve as a platform from which to expand the conversation about managing the arms race in the new century. But in and of itself that framework … could even distract from what is urgently needed—a conversation about strategic stability in an environment that both sides are ill-prepared to handle.”

“NATO should not give up on nuclear arms treaty. Abandoning INF agreement could lead to a new nuclear weapons race,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 02.03.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “The [INF] treaty’s collapse would ignore the fears of European allies of a lowering of the threshold for nuclear war. The U.S. ultimatum … promises to remove one of the last pillars of the arms control regime developed in the Cold War. The dangers were underlined by Moscow’s tit-for-tat suspension on Saturday.”
  • “It is true that China sits outside this nuclear architecture. But rather than abandon the INF it would be better for the U.S. to increase the pressure on Russia to comply and to challenge Beijing to join. The threat of nuclear proliferation around the world has rarely been higher. … No one can gain from a return to a nuclear free-for-all.”

“The INF Treaty Is Dead. Is New START Next? Experts worry about a new arms race after U.S. withdrawal from nuclear pact.” Robbie Gramer and Lara Seligman, Foreign Policy, 02.01.19The authors, staff writers for the magazine, write:

  • “While experts and Western officials broadly agree Russia is violating the INF treaty, they are split on whether the Trump administration’s decision to scrap it is a good idea.”
  • “Some experts fear the exit could trigger a new nuclear arms race … and may jeopardize another critical nuclear arms control agreement: the so-called New START treaty.
  • “‘Bolton has the same hostility toward New START historically as he had toward all the other international agreements where he has been the primary assassin,’ said Thomas Countryman, a former career diplomat … ‘You have to be concerned he will welcome any excuse not to extend New START, just as he welcomed this reason to kill the INF Treaty.’”
  • “But other experts and U.S. officials say there’s no point adhering to a treaty Russia ignores. ‘If there’s an arms race going on, Russia’s off and running, and we’re sitting on the sidelines playing with our shoelaces,’ said Matthew Kroenig, … an expert on nuclear weapons policy.”

“Why Putin Won’t Be Mad About Trump Pulling out of the INF Treaty,” Aaron Blake, The Washington Post, 02.02.19The author, a reporter for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Putin isn’t sad about its [the INF’s] termination. In fact, he’s been threatening to withdraw from the treaty for more than a decade. … Putin has repeatedly objected to the fact that other countries haven’t joined in the treaty.”
  • “In 2007, he [Putin] said this, according to an Associated Press report: ‘We need to convince other (countries) to assume the same level of obligation as assumed by the Russian Federation and the United States,’ Putin said. ‘If we are unable to obtain such a goal ... it will be difficult for us to keep within the framework of the treaty in a situation where other countries do develop such weapon systems, and among those are countries located in our near vicinity.’”
  • “Putin’s comments were similar in 2016. In an exchange captured by a Kremlin transcript, Putin called the leaders of the Soviet Union who forged the treaty with the United States in the late 1980s ‘naïve’ for its terms.”
  • “The Russians' flouting of the treaty contributes to the idea that this [the terms of the treaty] was punitive, but Russia in some ways seemed to be goading the United States to cancel it.”

Counter-terrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

“As Washington Exits, Russia's Syria Strategy Comes Under Scrutiny,” Dmitriy Frolovskiy, The National Interest, 01.29.19The author, a consultant on policy and strategy in the Middle East and Central Asia, writes:

  • “Russia wants the regime to regain control over northern Syria and resolve the issue of Idlib, which remains the last stronghold of the opposition. Moscow would likely include the YPG as a part of a ‘quid pro quo’ deal on the rebel-held province, while also working on enhancing direct communications between Ankara and Damascus.”
  • “Russia’s diplomatic goals would be centered on the launch of the constitutional committee, pursuit of funds to rebuild the country and struggle with greasing the wheels for the return of refugees. … Projecting the effects of the Syrian campaign beyond the Middle East is the goal that the Kremlin has been nurturing from the beginning.”
  • “Russia is using Syria as a base for altering its long-term regional strategy. … [T]he Kremlin wants to assert itself as an impartial broker. Moscow wants other nations to perceive it as a power capable of equally hedging opportunities, whether in the fields of energy, arms sales or agricultural exports, as well as maintaining a geopolitical and security balance with all parties.”

“America’s Almost Withdrawal from Syria,” Aaron Stein, War on the Rocks, 01.29.19The author, director of the Program on the Middle East at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, writes:

  • “The American war in Syria is ending. Russia’s effort to rebuild the country and end the anti-Assad insurgency will continue. Turkey will remain focused on the Kurdish threat and pick and choose allies in line with this narrow policy goal. The Islamic State, territorially defeated, will scatter and plot its return.”  

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

Elections interference:

“Fake news: How Lithuania’s ‘elves’ take on Russian trolls,” Michael Peel, Financial Times, 02.02.19The author, a reporter for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The six continually updated screens in front of Sgt. Tomas Ceponis’ desk in Lithuania’s defense ministry do not transmit conventional military data. On one, he can monitor the most popular stories in the Russian language. Another display shows how content is being shared via social media, while a third tracks trending online news about several countries.”
  • “Lithuania sees itself as being on the frontline of a Russian offensive to sow misinformation in the Western world. European politicians have become increasingly spooked by the spread of conspiracy theories.”
  • “The EU is … an unwieldy institution to tackle disinformation. It does not have its own intelligence service. It has beefed up its East Stratcom task force, whose EUvsDisinfo debunking site received more than 600,000 visits last year, but the operation still only has 16 people.”
  • “Another EU initiative—for a pan-bloc ‘early warning’ channel for member states to raise the alarm about emerging disinformation threats—is still at an early stage. But its creation is a sign of how fear about disinformation has pushed the balance of views in the bloc closer to Lithuania’s outlook.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“How the United States Got Russia Wrong. The West today is paying for its collusion with Russia in the 1990s,” Alexander Lukin, The National Interest, 02.01.19The author, head of the department of international relations at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, writes:

  • “Who is to blame for the fact that Russia gradually shifted its pro-U.S. position of the early 1990s to an anti-U.S. policy later? … Strobe Talbott, who developed Washington’s Russia policy of the time … [admitted that] Washington helped Yeltsin … Obviously, that assistance amounted to direct interference in Russia’s domestic policy.”
  • “Yeltsin asked Clinton to persuade the International Monetary Fund to grant Russia $10 billion in loans prior to the presidential elections in 1996 … Clinton complied, knowing full well that … he was interfering in Russia’s internal political struggle. … However, Talbott and his like-minded associates do not consider this collusion because it benefited the United States.”
  • “[I]n practice Washington helped create an ineffective, corrupt, anti-democratic regime whose primary purpose was seen as furthering U.S. interests. This only made the Russian people even unhappier with the Moscow regime and with the West.”
  • “Putin’s rise to power was the result of Yeltsin’s bankrupt policies and the widespread dissatisfaction with the direction in which he was leading the country—a course that the Clinton administration’s policies had greatly facilitated. … Putin was not initially opposed to the West. … In fact, Putin went through the same stages as Yeltsin had: from hopes of establishing equal cooperation with the United States to the understanding that it was impossible and transitioning to a more independent course.”
  • “From this perspective, Trump’s policies are far more understandable because they are less ideologized and hypocritical. Trump candidly states that his goal is to preserve the U.S. hegemony and economic advantage. He wanted to improve relations with Moscow … because he viewed Russia as less of a threat than China and Iran. This position is at least rational. Talbott and his like-minded associates in Washington’s political class, however, prevented Trump for pursuing this plan.”

“Growing Chorus of Republican Critics for Trump’s Foreign Policy,” Peter Baker, New York Times, 01.30.19The author, chief White House correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “They think pulling out of Syria and Afghanistan would be a debacle. They think North Korea cannot be trusted. They think the Islamic State is still a threat to America. They think Russia is bad and NATO is good. The trouble is their president does not agree.”
  • “More than two years into his administration, the disconnect between President Trump and the Republican establishment on foreign policy has rarely been as stark.”
  • “The growing discontent among Republican national security hawks was most evident … when Sen. Mitch McConnell … effectively rebuked the president by introducing a measure denouncing ‘a precipitous withdrawal’ of American troops from Syria and Afghanistan.”
  • “Nearly two weeks ago, more than two-thirds of House Republicans voted to overturn the Trump administration’s move to ease sanctions on Russian companies linked to a prominent oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska. And last week even more House Republicans voted to bar Mr. Trump from withdrawing from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Russia’s Support for Venezuela Has Deep Roots,” Alexander Gabuev, Financial Times, 02.01.19The author, senior fellow and the chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “[T]he Kremlin offering to send in advisers to help embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro … is more than Vladimir Putin’s version of payback for years of U.S. involvement in places like Ukraine and Georgia or the U.S.’s withdrawal from the mid-range nuclear arms treaty.”
  • “Russia’s policy on Venezuela is heavily influenced by Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft, Russia’s national oil company. … The involvement of Mr. Sechin … suggests that Russia’s national security policymaking is increasingly driven by a combination of corporate interests and ambitions of powerful members of Mr. Putin’s inner circle. … Russia is now so deeply invested in the Maduro regime that the only realistic option is to double down.”
  • “Yevgeniy Prigozhin has [also] parlayed his role as a Kremlin caterer into other lucrative state contracts overseas. … Evidence seems to be mounting that powerful individuals close to Mr. Putin can all too easily sideline the country’s more careful bureaucrats. Rosneft’s deep ties to Venezuela and Russia’s efforts to insert itself into the crisis there together raise questions about whether the country’s leadership is acting to preserve national or corporate and private interests.”

“For the Kremlin, Venezuela Is Not the Next Syria,” Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, 01.30.19The author, Moscow bureau chief for the news outlet, writes:

  • “President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has long made the buttressing of beleaguered despots a pillar of his foreign policy … to drive home the point that outside powers should not dabble in other countries' internal affairs. On the face of it, the upheaval in Venezuela would seem to check all his boxes. Venezuela, however, is not Syria.”
  • “It is separated from Russia by thousands of miles of ocean; there is no allied regional power like Iran that Moscow can rely on to do the dirty work on the ground; and … the Kremlin does not really have the means or the domestic support for another costly overseas adventure.”
  • “Nevertheless, the question ‘What should Russia do?’ is raised daily by newspaper columnists and television pundits. So far, the answer from the Kremlin seems to be that it will mostly fulminate from the sidelines and, as in every other foreign or domestic crisis, splatter blame on the United States.”

“Putin’s Next Playground or the EU’s Last Moral Stand?” Ivan Krastev, New York Times, 01.28.19The author, chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Bulgaria, writes:

  • “The confrontation in the Balkans between the West and Russia is changing both in nature and intensity. In the last decade, Russia was actively defending its economic and cultural presence in the region, but it never openly challenged NATO or European Union hegemony. Not anymore.”
  • “The conventional wisdom could be wrong. Moscow has sensed a critical vulnerability in the West’s position in the Balkans: While in places like Ukraine the European Union has been perceived as a symbol of change, in the Balkans it’s seen as the defender of a status quo that may be ready for disruption.”
  • “While polls show that a majority of people still sees joining the European Union as the best road to prosperity, the promise of European integration is losing its talismanic power.”
  • “[T]he Greek Parliament [has] finally approved Macedonia’s new name, North Macedonia, putting an end to one of the conflicts that has been haunting the Balkans. … Now, Europe should find similar energy and flexibility to push Serbia and Kosovo to find their own compromise. That’s the only way it can stay relevant in the region—not by being a force for the status quo.”

“As US Mulls Withdrawal From Afghanistan, Russia Wants Back in. By holding its own peace talks, Moscow is laying the groundwork to play kingmaker,” Lara Seligman, Foreign Policy, 01.31.19The author, a staff writer at the magazine, writes:

  • “While U.S. officials tout progress in peace talks with the Taliban, Russia has been quietly conducting a parallel effort, hosting a landmark diplomatic conference in Moscow in November 2018.”
  • “More recently, Zamir Kabolov, Russia’s Afghanistan envoy, arrived in Islamabad on Jan. 29 to hold talks with senior Pakistani diplomats that will focus on both countries’ efforts to forge a political solution to the Afghan conflict. Meanwhile … Russia will reportedly host talks between the Taliban and Afghan politicians opposed to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.”
  • “Russia’s attempts at mediation reflect Moscow’s desire to reclaim its role as regional power broker. If the United States decides to withdraw its forces before a deal between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul can be reached, observers believe Russia will likely try to fill the vacuum.”
  • “Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction noted that the Afghan government’s influence over the population declined in the last quarter.”

“Why Did Soviets Invade Afghanistan? Documents Offer History Lesson for Trump,” Peter Baker, New York Times, 01.29.19The author, chief White House correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “One day in October 1979, an American diplomat named Archer K. Blood arrived at Afghanistan’s government headquarters, summoned by the new president [Hafizullah Amin] … Mr. Blood’s newly published cable sheds light on what really drove the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan only two months after his meeting with Mr. Amin.”
  • “It was not because of terrorism, as claimed this month by President Trump, who said the Soviets were right to invade. Among the real motivations, the cable and other documents suggest, was a fear that Afghanistan might switch loyalties to the West.”
  • “‘This was a key moment that raised the Soviet sense of threat,’ said Thomas S. Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive.”

China:

“A Sino-Russian Entente Again Threatens America. The U.S. must revise its policy toward Moscow if it is to meet the threat from a rising China,” Graham T. Allison and Dimitri K. Simes, Wall Street Journal, 01.29.19The authors, a professor of government at Harvard and the president and CEO of the Center for the National Interest, write:

  • “Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski warned in 1997 that the greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests would be a ‘grand coalition’ of China and Russia, ‘united not by ideology but by complementary grievances.’ This coalition ‘would be reminiscent in scale and scope of the challenge once posed by the Sino-Soviet bloc, though this time China would likely be the leader and Russia the follower.’”
  • “A fundamental proposition in international relations is that the enemy of my enemy is a friend. … If the defining challenge to U.S. national interests in the 21st century is a rising China, preventing the emergence of a Sino-Russian entente should be a key U.S. priority.”
  • “When the U.S. seeks to punish Mr. Putin for his unacceptable behavior—no matter its intentions—it has the predictable consequence of pushing Russia into an unnatural alliance with China.”
  • “A sound U.S. global strategy would combine greater realism in recognizing the threat of a Beijing-Moscow alliance, and greater imagination in creating a coalition of nations to meet it.”

“The New Beijing-Moscow Axis; A shared rivalry with the U.S. has reunited the two powers, as in the early days of the Cold War. But this time, China is the senior partner,” Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, 02.01.19The author, a columnist and senior correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Though aligned, [Russia and China] are not formal allies and do not always see eye to eye on foreign policy. China doesn't recognize Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula—just as Russia doesn't endorse China's claims to contested islands in the South China Sea and continues to sell weapons to China's regional rivals. … Yet over the past year, President Donald Trump's determined effort to roll back China's world-power aspirations … has nudged Beijing closer to Moscow.”
  • “‘For the foreseeable future, we are going to be very close partners, de facto allies with China, even though there will never be a formal alliance,’ said Sergei Karaganov, a former Kremlin adviser. ... [Russia’s and China’s] divergent economic trajectories have translated into different approaches to the international order. Russia's demographic and economic stagnation means that it only has so much time left before its military might … starts to erode, too. Moscow has thus sought rapid change, sometimes too recklessly for China's tastes.”
  • “‘China and Russia have different attitudes. Russia wants to break the current international order,’ said Shi Ze, a former Chinese diplomat in Moscow … ‘Russia thinks it is the victim of the current international system, in which its economy and its society do not develop. But China benefits from the current international system. We want to improve and modify it, not to break it.’”
  • “A bigger obstacle to closer cooperation is Moscow's fear that China will move one day to seize areas in Russia's Far East that Beijing ceded in the mid-1800s. … [Russians] are increasingly working with China against a common foe: the West.”

“Russia Is a Rogue, Not a Peer; China Is a Peer, Not a Rogue. Different Challenges, Different Responses,” James Dobbins, Howard J. Shatz and Ali Wyne, RAND Corporation, 2019The authors, a senior fellow, the director of RAND-Initiated Research and a policy analyst, write:

  • “China presents a greater geoeconomic challenge to the United States than Russia does. … As of 2017, China's economy was the second largest in the world, behind only that of the United States. Russia's was 11th.”
  • “Russia's military expenditure is lower than China's, and that gap is likely to grow. Russia is far smaller, has poorer economic prospects, and is less likely to dramatically increase its military power in the long term. Russia is a more immediate and more proximate military threat to U.S. national security than China is but can be countered Russia will probably remain militarily superior to all its immediate neighbors other than China. Russia is vulnerable to a range of nonmilitary deterrents, such as sanctions on the Russian economy and limiting Russian income from exports of fossil fuels; multilateral efforts would be more effective than U.S.-only operations, however.”
  • “Russia backs far-right and far-left political movements with a view to disrupting the politics of adversarial societies and, if possible, installing friendlier regimes. China, in contrast, seems basically indifferent to the types of government of the states with which it interacts, increasing its attractiveness as an economic partner.”

Ukraine:

“Implementing the Minsk Agreements Might Drive Ukraine to Civil War. That’s Been Russia’s Plan All Along,” Jonathan Brunson, War on the Rocks, 02.01.19The author, an independent consultant, writes:

  • “The mechanism intended to bring about peace in Donbass, the 2014–15 Minsk Agreements, is unlikely to succeed. Minsk is broadly perceived as a bad agreement that Ukraine has little incentive to implement because its essence runs directly counter to Ukrainian interests of Euro-Atlantic integration, national unity, social cohesion and true equal rights for all.”
  • “If Ukraine cannot prevail militarily, there are really just two alternatives: Either surrender secessionist enclaves to focus on realigning the rest of the country West; or swap Crimea for Donbass.”
  • “According to this prevalent view, Minsk’s ultimate goal—peaceful political reintegration and social reconciliation of Donbass back into a unitary state—is not in Ukraine’s national interest. … To paraphrase preeminent Ukraine scholar Alexander Motyl, reintegrating millions of pro-Russian voters into a democracy that also aspires to NATO and EU membership is a bad idea.”
  • “Fully implementing Minsk could push Ukraine toward another revolution or civil war by strong-arming Kiev into enacting controversial political provisions on an unsustainable timeline. This, of course, serves Russian interests nicely.”

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

“A Brotherly Takeover: Could Russia Annex Belarus?” Artyom Shraibman, Carnegie Moscow Center, 01.29.19The author, a political correspondent, writes:

  • “The Kremlin’s recent demand that Belarus integrate further with the Russian state in return for financial support has sparked concerns that Russia may annex its neighbor. Such a move, some analysts suggest, would allow President Vladimir Putin to remain in office after 2024. But this scenario is rife with unpredictable risks for Russia and is based upon several incorrect myths about modern Belarus.”
  • “Many Russians incorrectly believe that capricious Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is the only obstacle preventing Belarus from happily joining the Russian Federation. However, in reality, the number of Belarusians who support the country’s independence has steadily and consistently grown.”
  • “Moreover … Belarusian supporters of Russia aren’t confined to certain areas of the country. There is no Belarusian Crimea or Donbass that could be used to destabilize the Minsk government.”
  • “If Russia really wanted to absorb Belarus, its only option would be to use (or threaten to use) force and potentially face popular resistance. So the real question is whether such a takeover is actually worth it for the Kremlin. … If Putin wishes to remain president after 2024, annexing Belarus and then becoming leader of the Union State is rife with unpredictable risks. A better option would simply be to amend the Russian Constitution.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Send Chechens, Guns and Money. Ramzan Kadyrov’s Imperial Ambitions,” Neil Hauer, Foreign Affairs, 02.04.19The author, an independent security analyst, writes:

  • “By 2017, Russian and Chechen security services had succeeded in effectively destroying the armed insurgent networks in the region. This battlefield success has allowed [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov to pursue other priorities, such as enforcing his will on his neighbors.”
  • “In mid-2018, on the pretext of infrastructure development, Kadyrov began expanding the dilapidated mountain road into the republic of Ingushetia … Soon thereafter, pictures emerged of Chechen officials … standing on Ingush land and proclaiming it as their own. … Having successfully expanded to his west, Kadyrov turned east. In mid-November, Chechnya’s Parliament published a map showing the updated borders of the republic. The map included not only the new territory from Ingushetia but another unexpected alteration: parts of the republic of Dagestan.”
  • “As he is expanding within the Russian Federation, Kadyrov is also improving ties with foreign partners. … Territorial expansion, autonomous foreign relations and an independent military are all strikingly unusual attributes for a provincial subdivision of a larger state. For these reasons, analysts such as Ekaterina Sokirianskaia have previously described Chechnya as Russia’s ‘inner abroad’ and ‘a state within a state.’”
  • “At present, there is only one element strongly linking Chechnya with Russia, and that is money. Chechen authorities receive roughly 85 percent of their state budget in the form of federal transfer payments from Moscow.”

“Vladimir Putin Maintains Grip on Spending Despite Russian Anger,” Henry Foy, Financial Times, 01.30.19The author, Moscow bureau chief for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The country has banked a budget surplus of $41 billion for 2018, the fruit of ultra-conservative economic policies by an administration fearful of Western sanctions and nervous about global markets.”
  • “That this buffer is piling up, when the Kremlin has also pushed up taxes and is forcing people to work longer, is casting gloom over Russia. It is dragging Mr Putin’s approval ratings to record lows—and making the all-powerful president worried about the consequences”
  • “‘In our analysis we are entering a really long, extended autumn,’ said one senior Western diplomat in Moscow. ‘It is hard to see where the good news will come from and what levers the government has to increase public satisfaction.’”

Defense and aerospace:

“Rethinking the Structure and Role of Russia’s Airborne Forces,” Michael Kofman, Oxford’s Changing Character of War Program Issue Brief #4/Russian Military Analysis blog, 01.30.19The author, a senior research scientist at CNA, writes:

  • “The Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) compose one of the more important instruments in the General Staff’s toolkit, serving as a rapid reaction force for local conflicts, supporting special operations or striking behind enemy lines in a conventional war.”
  • “Whether responding to a crisis, or choosing to visit the territory of its neighbor without notice, Russia is likely to lean on the highest readiness units with elite training, and good mobility, which in many cases means the VDV.”
  • “During the tumult of the military reforms, 2008-2012, the VDV was de facto the only reasonably well staffed force available for handling local conflicts. This is no longer the case, and Russia’s airborne must compete for a future role alongside increasingly better equipped and larger ground forces.”
  • “Although it is once again being saddled with a ‘motor rifle lite’ role, the General Staff is still positioning the VDV as a high readiness reaction force, and an air mobile component that offers the Russian military new options at operational depths.”

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.
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